Faith leaders met with the White House Monday to call for reform in regulating the expected multi-billion dollar bonuses to bank executives this month as millions of families, whose tax dollars kept banks alive, face losing their homes.
The religious leaders, which included representatives from the evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Jewish communities, met with members of the White House National Economic Council and delivered a letter signed by hundreds of clergy nationwide calling for reforms to hold banks accountable, keep families in their homes, and protect consumers from predatory lending.
"Many Americans see all too easily the immense contradiction between the record profits that Wall Street is back to making and the incredible pain and suffering that so many families are facing this holiday season – families who are losing their jobs and their homes due to a recession caused in large part by banks' reckless behavior," said the Rev. Lucy Kolin, PICO clergy spokesperson.
Three struggling homeowners from the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organization that works to solve problems faced by ordinary Americans, shared their personal experience with foreclosures while standing in front of the U.S. Treasury Department at a press conference before the White House meeting.
Nylton Andrade was a teacher for a public school in Massachusetts until he was laid off in June. He tried to modify his loan, but his lender, Bank of America, said he did not qualify. His family is in danger of losing their home any day.
"It's maddening to see the banks that caused our recession, and were then bailed out by taxpayer money, turn around and give out billions in bonuses while they continue to throw millions of people out of their homes like myself, who simply need a few hundred dollars less on our monthly mortgage payment," Andrade said.
Similarly, homeowner Mercy Martinez of San Jose, Calif., has tried to work with Bank America to modify her loan since April. Martinez said she had put $100,000 down on her condo and had enough money for a traditional, 30-year fixed rate loan, but a loan servicer "unethically tricked" her into accepting an adjustable rate loan. As a result, Martinez could face foreclosure at any moment.
"It's a time bomb," said the struggling San Jose homeowner. "I have put so much of my life savings and monthly salary into this house and yet I live with daily anxiety, knowing that when my payment adjusts I won't be able to pay my mortgage."
About four million homeowners are now at risk of foreclosure, according to the event's organizers. Recent research by the Center for Responsible Lending found that every 13 seconds a new foreclosure is filed against another family. The number translates to about 6,600 new foreclosures every day, and at that rate nearly two million families will lose their homes in 2009 alone.
On Wall Street, meanwhile, the nation's six largest banks are expected to give out a record $162 billion in bonuses this holiday season.
"Teachers, social workers, small business owners and our men and women in the armed services all know what it means to sacrifice for the good of our country in tough times, and they do so with pride," said Jim Wallis, CEO of social justice ministry Sojourners and author of the forthcoming book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street – A Moral Compass for a New Economy. "I refuse to believe that Wall Street is the one place in the country that is exempt."
The event denouncing Wall Street bonuses while calling for greater protection for homeowners was organized by PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and the Center for Responsible Lending.