Mr. Bush, Come Tell the Ghosts in Queens Your Financial Plan
As our lame-duck President began his televised speech about the financial meltdown Thursday in lower Manhattan, accountant Barbara Beaubrun sat in her house in southeast Queens, shaking her head in disbelief.
"He's in the wrong place," Beaubrun screamed. "He should be out here helping homeowners, not on Wall Street."
"Here" is Linden Blvd. near 146th St., a black working-class neighborhood that is Ground Zero in the city's mortgage crisis.
At least 98 properties within three blocks of Beaubrun's house have fallen into foreclosure since January 2006. "For sale" signs abound. Every street is dotted with one or two boarded up shells.
It's the same all across America: Some 2.2 million homes have fallen into foreclosure.
Another 6.5 million face a similar fate over the next few years as home values continue to plummet and adjustable mortgages with exploding rates drag more owners underwater.
"I can't tell you how many elderly people from around here lost their homes the past few years," Beaubrun said. "Nothing but tenants in this community now."
The mortgage companies used to be "thick as flies trying to convince people to take out more loans," she said.
Since few of Beaubrun's neighbors had lawyers to advise them, they used to come to her to notarize their papers. That's when she started to see the dubious documents the shady real estate brokers and fly-by-night lenders concocted.
"I kept telling my clients, 'You sure you know what you're signing?'" she said. "I warned them, 'Look for that one word - adjustable.' But most of them didn't know any better." Sometimes she refused to notarize papers.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street banks kept turning subprime loans into esoteric securities. Then they peddled the inflated financial instruments around the world. It was the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.
It was all made possible by a White House opposed to all regulation.
So here was the President, with only weeks left in his disastrous reign, daring to tell the city and the world, "Our aim should not be more government. It should be smarter government."
Any government would do.
"How can he bail out those banks but not help the homeowners?" Beaubrun asked.
Just this week, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson reversed course on the government's $700billion bailout of Wall Street.
Instead of buying up toxic debt connected to all those bad home mortgages, Paulson wants to use the money to buy shares of all kinds of financial institutions - even credit card companies.
"A complete travesty," says Sarah Ludwig, director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, which helps troubled homeowners.
Congress first approved the controversial bailout a few weeks ago to buy up "troubled assets" linked to bad mortgages.
"At least that plan provided leverage for the government to get banks to modify loans to homeowners," Ludwig says.
Paulson's new approach will leave "troubled homeowners in a worse position," Ludwig says.
President Bush keeps saying he's facing the crisis with a steady hand.
On the suffering streets of Southeast Queens, they know better.
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