by Yvette Carnell
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve watched pundits and politicians alike herald President Obama’s mortgage relief program as a savior for homeowners. The status quo seems to rally around mortgage refinance programs because they lower the homeowner’s monthly note, thus reducing the number of foreclosures. All good things right? It depends.
What’s missing from the conversation is how the reverberations we’re now feeling are all the consequence of a massive market bubble bursting. Before that bubble burst, however, home prices were overvalued, and now, after the bust, home prices are somewhat undervalued. And although it is true that they may edge up a bit in the coming years, they’ll never again reach the price values for which they were originally sold. All this means that if you’re underwater now, you’re underwater forever.
Say for instance that your home is only worth 60% of its original price. It would help you tremendously if your lender shaved off the overvalued 40% and refinanced your home at the current (real) value, but that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that modifications to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) are lowering the payments so that you’re less likely to walk away and leave the bank holding the bag.
And what of all the bank fraud cases still pending where banks foreclosed on homes without proof of ownership? If a homeowner with a pending suit opts to take advantage of Obama’s retooled program, what is the impact of banks getting a spanking brand new deed from a homeowner? Do these fraud cases just go away?
Since the black community has been disproportionately battered by foreclosures during this downturn, it would only make sense that African American centric media outlets would investigate these claims, but that ain’t happening. Among journalists, our white media observers have been much more outspoken (see here and here) on how Obama’s new plan doesn’t pass the smell test than their African Americans counterparts. Over at Newsone, whose tagline is news “for black America”, they initially opted to link to an AP story in lieu of doing any original reporting on the issue. The next day, Newsone published a short snippet about changes to HARP, the crux of which was a quote from the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, over at hallelujah headquarters, the Washington Post owned publication theroot didn’t offer any critical review of Obama’s revamped foreclosure plan on their politics or news page, although they did offer up an article, “Ask Obama, and Ye Shall Receive?”, which gives credence to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship that black voters have with Obama; he’s a demi-God until he falls short, in which case, he’s just one man. This is, of course, the unified and schizophrenic reaction of black folks – including black media – to Obama.
For me, it all begs the question of whether one of the lasting legacies of Obama’s presidency will be the total annihilation of the African American bullshit detector. Lazy journalism spurs lazy thinking. Uncritical reporting gives way to popular acquiescence of empty platitudes like “Change We Can Believe In” and more recently, “Winning the Future”. Instead of grappling with the real issues and their accompanying implications, black media outlets are either ignoring the issues or repackaging the administration’s presentation and misrepresenting it as real reporting. The problem, however, is that reporting such as this is too abstract to be of any use to anyone. It’s anti-intellectual coverage of an acutely intellectual, and cunning, President.
And I just don’t see how you can call yourself a black news outlet if you aren’t doing a story on how these changes to the HARP will specifically impact black people. Isn’t the whole point of being a black outlet to serve the black community? How does that work if you’re just volleying the ball back over to the Washington Post?
If we-those who are expected to be the guardians of the black perspective-are this lazy in our approach to news gathering and deciphering, I shudder to think what new plans are being hatched to befuddle and bamboozle us. We make it way too easy.