On October 12, the California Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to President Obama “urging him to act immediately to address our country’s troubled housing market.” The California Dems called on the president to press banks to cut the amount owed on mortgages by homeowners whose houses are underwater, as well as take other steps that in the aggregate would result in a “homeowners bill of rights.”
Yesterday in Washington, The California Report’s Scott Shafer spoke to Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, the head of California’s House Democratic delegation, about the letter. She had some not-totally-admiring things to say about the President and his administration.
Here’s the edited transcript:
What led to writing and releasing the letter?
We as a delegation and as individuals have been working on this housing crisis for a long time. We’ve written letters, met with the Treasury Secretary, the Housing Secretary, the head of the FHA. We’ve had bills, and we have gotten nowhere with the administration.
It’s not just an academic issue. Almost every member of the California delegation goes home every week and talks face to face with constituents. And it’s just an outrage what’s happened. The banks are just running roughshod over the people that we represent and we’re furious about it.
[The delegation] said ‘we’ve had it.’ If we have to go public and say ‘do something,’ we’ll do it. Maybe finally we’ll get the president’s attention. I think the step on refinancing that was bullet point No. 1 in our letter is a step forward. It doesn’t help the foreclosure crisis and we had other recommendations. I hope this isn’t all the president is going to do. He has the capacity to do some additional things.
His door’s open to you folks, I would think…
No, no. I haven’t been to the White House in maybe a year-and-a-half. There’s very little communication between House Democrats and the president.
What accounts for that?
I have no idea. It’s quite different than when Bill Clinton was president.
Is it fair to say there’s more than a little frustration?
Yeah, it’s not about going to the White House. It’s about our constituents. People in the delegation are just very frustrated. You go home to people and you can’t explain why we’re not taking action because there’s no explanation. There are things that we can do, that the president can do that would make this situation better and I hope he does it.
He’s in San Francisco now. What message would you like him to know about what’s happening in the Bay Area?
We’re having a little bit of a recovery in the tech sector, people are starting to hire, innovation has been going on throughout. But housing is a real impediment to digging out of this economic hole. A lot of economists have told us if the housing sector doesn’t recover the economy’s not going to recover.
The president is a smart man and presumably he has smart people around him. But do you think he’s getting conflicting advice?
I don’t know, but we met with Secretary Geithner and it was not an impressive meeting. As Secretary of the Treasury, I’m sure he knows lots about Treasury issues. He doesn’t know very much about housing. In my judgment he was considerably too concerned about banks and not concerned enough about homeowners.