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Anita Hill: Kamala Harris’s Bold Stand for CA Communities: Pursuing Banks Who Fleeced Homeowners

February 16, 2012

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Why fighting on the behalf of homeowners is imperative.

anita hill.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by drregor

By **Anita Hill**

By arrangement with Beacon Broadside.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris’s role in last week’s $26 billion settlement with five of the nation’s leading banks shows how critical it is for states and local governments take a stand on behalf of homeowners. Last September, according to a story that ran Monday in the New York Times, she walked away from negotiations in the multi-state process. Some of her peers accused her of grandstanding. She stood her ground and negotiated the largest share of the settlement that may rise above the amount announced last week. The money Harris negotiated is more than a mere chance to compensate people duped by the banks, it begins to restore a critical part of our national identity lost to individual and corporate greed that trumped moral and even sound economic judgment.

In Reimagining Equality, I outlined how the foreclosure epidemic threatened America’s identity as a place where one comes to finds a home and builds from there a sense of belonging to a community and a nation.

Not everyone I met has a home that is underwater; some don’t own homes at all. But they all have an investment in the idea that home is critical to them in finding a place in a thriving democracy.

Recently, in a speech to a crowd gathered at a neighborhood community center, President Obama explained why the threat to home ownership wreaks more than economic havoc.

“This housing crisis struck right at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America: our homes, the place where we invest our nest egg, place where we raise our family, the place where we plant roots in a community, the place where we build memories,” Obama said.

Since October, I’ve visited a over a dozen cities and spoken to countless individuals who hold on cautiously to their belief in homeownership as a tenet of the American Dream. In New Orleans, people who are still recovering from the ravages of Katrina sat beside people who struggle to pay mortgages that have escalated out of control. In Detroit, I visited neighborhoods smattered with boarded up houses that stand along side occupied residences. Yet a neighborhood school, lead by one exceptionally courageous and committed principal and her dedicated teachers, flourishes. The schools and the children that pour out of those homes remind me that a new generation of children will live surrounded by a “new normal” of devastation. Will the best and brightest of them have a reason to stay to raise their children in their old neighborhoods?

Not everyone I met has a home that is underwater; some don’t own homes at all. But they all have an investment in the idea that home is critical to them in finding a place in a thriving democracy.

The multi-state settlement will go far in showing that their trust in a government that will protect their chance to “plant roots in a community” is not misplaced. Yet, the agreement reached by the Attorneys General should not preclude state and local governments from pursuing banks who fleeced consumers. Those entities know all too well the devastating impact of the housing crisis. They also know that it will take more than even the billions on the table today to restore communities so that they are once again places where people can raise their families.

________________________________________________________________________

By arrangement with Beacon Broadside.

Anita Hill is a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University.

:

Robert Reich: The State of Our Disunion: Why the government allows itself to be overwhelmed by corporate money. More
Russ Baker: The Deaths of JFK, RFK—and the Silence of the Lambs: When exactly did courage and truth-seeking go out of fashion? More
Duncan Murrell: Occupy Wall Street, Liberate America: “Occupy” fine and all, but #OccupyWallStreet should consider a new verb.More
Tom Engelhardt: Wall Street By the Book : A (self-)graduation speech for the occupiers of Zuccotti Park. More


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