Latinos unfairly blamed in housing fiasco - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Latinos unfairly blamed in housing fiasco

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Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010 9:30 am

Up the street from where I work when in Washington, D.C., there's a nice restaurant called the Thai-Tanic. The food is very good, the prices reasonable and it's a great meeting place for lunch or dinner.

The play on words, the double-entendre, between the ship and the ethnic cuisine is clever. It goes to show how one concept distinct from another, can change a person's perspective. The Nov. 2 elections are a lot like that too.

For instance, the role Latinos will play in the elections seems to be narrowly focused on whether turnout will be like that of 2008. Or immigration is presumed to be the obsessive concern that defines 50 million Latinos.

In actuality, the nearly century-long focus, despite the multitude of Hispanic backgrounds, has been around family stability, community and home.

Anyone soliciting Latino voters is hugely unworthy of it without understanding that before "issues," mostly used to divide instead of to define political differences, are values.

Indicators suggest that the United States, in relation to other developed nations, is not the best nor the worst but roughly in the middle, according to The Economist of Oct, 9-15. If the economy stalls out in the near term, the reasons are most likely flagging entrepreneurship, exports, innovation, a less knowledge-driven economy and failing population expansion.

Those are reasons enough to focus on the nation's Latino population. It fits their profile, with kids bursting into schools and colleges, entrepreneurship at about twice the rate of other groups, and until recently large-scale home purchasing and community building.

U.S. Hispanics, as the fastest growing middle-income segment in the 1990s, burst into homeownership expansion during the first decade of 2000. When the housing crisis occurred, in fact, a controversial January 2009, Wall Street Journal article tried to pin it on Hispanic families because they greatly benefited from the housing boom. When the housing bust came, they were said to have contributed disproportionately to the financial meltdown because of defaults and foreclosures.

The Wall Street Journal story by Susan Schmidt and Maurice Tamman declared, "It wasn't simply the mortgage market at work" but alleged a cabal by Latino advocacy groups, congressional representatives and mortgage lenders was responsible. It is true Latino mortgage holders jumped by 29 percent and subprime mortgages soared 169 percent in 2005, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.

Back then, it was called the American Dream.

It's also true Hispanic homeownership grew an aggressive 47 percent, or from 4.1 million to 6.1 million between 2000 and 2007, compared to 8 percent for the rest of the nation.

But yesterday's party is today's hangover. The Center for Responsible Lending reported that out of a half million foreclosures in California, 48 percent were Latino, compared to 35 percent for whites, 8 percent for African Americans and 6 percent for Asians.

Voto Latino Executive Director Maria Teresa Kumar estimates 38 percent of the nation's foreclosures have been among Latinos, mostly in California, Nevada and Florida.

Now comes foreclosure-gate, revealing that mortgage contracts were compromised (possibly with fabricated documentation), paperwork filed too quickly, and homes taken over too soon by the nation's big banks. It takes the smallest of inferences that the highest proportion of victims were overwhelmingly Latino families.

It has all the earmarks of a triple fleecing of people who ended up losing their homes -- selling, mortgaging and foreclosing.

So what is the political responsibility in all this?

If a serious election were coming up, sober political figures would explain what happened, to whom, and what can be done to get the nation working and functioning again, using fair rules to put the productive segments of the society back on track.

There's something wacky when this election has the earmarks of a Ringling Bros. act. It's entertaining. It's just not politics.

That's also why the Thai-Tanic is a great place to eat. However, I just wouldn't recommend taking a cruise in one.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at joseisla3@yahoo.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com

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