EDITORIAL: The housing hurricane

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina caused tens of thousands of families to lose their homes.

Last year, the home mortgage meltdown that is now sweeping the country took the homes of 800,000 families. This year, the number could reach 2 million.

When the levees broke in New Orleans, rising floodwaters forced people to flee.

Today, surging mortgage payments, rising by hundreds of dollars per month, are drowning families in debt. Not floodwaters, but waves of bankers, lawyers and sheriffs are driving families from their homes.

Nature did not trigger this new crisis — it is the product of deregulation, rampant speculation and profiteering by real estate and financial interests, and a mass media that acts as cheerleaders for those interests.

What to do?

As with the post-Katrina disaster, communities need to come together with unions and local governments to help the victims of this disaster, to identify families facing foreclosure or in danger of falling behind on payments. With organization behind them, homeowners can negotiate with lenders for a manageable payment schedule. The terrible feeling of isolation and failure faced by families on their own can be replaced by the strength and solidarity of a community united and fighting back.

But, as with Katrina, this is a national problem, demanding national solutions. And, as with Katrina, the Bush administration is focusing on helping the big money interests.

Some Democratic members of Congress and presidential candidates are calling for measures to protect homeowners from foreclosure. But only a loud demand from the grass roots can make these proposals into reality.

A moratorium on foreclosures is urgently needed. Lenders should be compelled to restructure problem mortgages so that payments do not exceed 25 percent of a family’s income.

Criminal fraud and conspiracy charges should be issued against the mortgage lenders and their Wall Street backers who paid themselves obscene salaries and bonuses by trapping hard-working families in a nightmare version of the American dream.

And, at long last, Congress should enact a federal program to rebuild New Orleans and fund its public schools, hospitals and infrastructure, so all of its residents can return and have good jobs.