Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Four years after Wall Street’s recklessness collapsed the housing market, the foreclosure crisis is still hammering Las Vegas Valley residents. Thousands of Nevadans have lost their homes or are in danger of losing them, as our state was hit the hardest by the crash.
Even for those Las Vegans who are still fortunate to be living in their home, a vast number of them are underwater because home values here have fallen so far that people owe more on their homes than they’re worth.
It’s a crisis that affects more than those who have lost their homes. Foreclosed homes often aren’t taken care of by the lender who owns the mortgage note, so these neglected homes and yards are run down. The property values of neighboring homes suffer as a result. The worse the foreclosure crisis gets, the harder it is for the Las Vegas economy to emerge from this recession — and that affects all of us.
I’ve seen the devastation that hard-working middle-class families have had to endure when faced with the possibility of losing their homes. Responsible homeowners have told me often of their unsuccessful efforts to get lenders to refinance their mortgages since the crisis began. These homeowners need help. The good news is President Barack Obama is listening.
When the president assumed office in 2009, the housing crisis — a complicated problem with no easy fix — had been well underway. The administration immediately implemented constructive and creative strategies to stabilize the housing market so responsible homeowners can keep their homes.
I was excited that the president came to Las Vegas last week, unveiling a new plan that should help homeowners refinance. The president made his announcement at the east Las Vegas home of Jose and Lissette Bonilla, a couple who benefited from his Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which helped the Bonillas afford the down payment and fix up the house they bought.
The president outlined the three basic parts to his new mortgage refinancing plan when he visited Las Vegas:
• Responsible homeowners will be able to refinance government-backed mortgages regardless of how much their home’s value has dropped.
• The closing costs will be lower and even some refinancing fees will be done away with completely. There are times when such fees are so prohibitive that they cancel out any benefit of refinancing.
• Consumers will have the opportunity to shop around to get the best rates. Currently, those homeowners with underwater mortgages have to refinance with their current lenders. That not only precludes competition, but it also means homeowners are at the mercy of their lenders.
President Obama’s reforms are grounded in the belief that owning a home is not just a place to live — it is something that’s cherished. But to someone like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former financial executive, a home is little more than an investment, whose value is measured on a financial ledger.
Earlier this month in Las Vegas, Romney said: “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” So while Romney is willing to give big tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, he isn’t willing to help those who are struggling to hold on to their homes.
The president said in Las Vegas: “I’m going to keep on doing everything in my power to help to stabilize the housing market, grow the economy, accelerate job growth, and restore some of the security that middle-class families have felt slipping away for more than a decade.”
President Obama understands this is a problem affecting hard-working Americans, while Romney apparently views this as a money-making opportunity.
Instead of moving forward, Romney and the many Republicans incredibly promise to go back and enable the same recklessness on Wall Street that got us into this mess in the first place.
Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat, is a state assemblyman whose district includes mostly North Las Vegas residents.