November 5, 2016

The Moral Of The Story

A weekend topic on a series by Las Vegas Now in Nevada. “The Las Vegas housing market has finally emerged from a long dark period. Home sales are up, home values are way up, and the tens of thousands of jobs lost during the economic collapse have been recouped, according to state officials. But there are warning signs that we might be headed for another housing bubble, and some financial experts warn that we should not forget the lessons learned since the bubble burst almost 10 years ago. For a period, there were 300 foreclosure evictions per day in Clark County — 130,000 in a four-year period. Las Vegas led the nation in ways no one could have imagined.”

“The human cost was staggering. Beatrice Cortinas and her husband moved from their home of many years into a tent in their backyard. They fought the bank, but now, five years later, they’ve finally conceded defeat. ‘I work all my life for this house, and then now it’s gone,’ said Armando Cortinas. ‘It’s been very hard,’ said Beatrice Cortinas. ‘It’s been very hard.’”

“Attorney Tisha Black represented many developers and homebuilders. She knows of 26 suicides. Black notes we still have not seen the full brunt of the previous collapse. ‘In the last six months, I’m getting some new cases on short sales and loan modifications. We’re still top five consistently in foreclosures. A full quarter of our inventory have still not dealt with being underwater,’ Black said. She believes more is coming.”

“There was plenty of blame to go around. Federal regulators who failed to do their jobs, investors and homeowners looking to get rich quick, but the fingerprints of Wall Street banks were all over the crisis. Bankers paid tens of billions in fines, but despite engineering the largest theft in human history, none of them went to prison.”

“Eleven trillion dollars — that’s how much personal wealth was wiped out by the housing crisis that erupted in 2007. No city in America suffered more than Las Vegas. Wall Street banks were slammed with huge fines for their role in creating the financial meltdown, but none of the big players went to prison. So, would bankers do it again if they could?”

“Philanthropist and former Wall Street analyst Heather Murren spent 18 months working on the commission which investigated the financial meltdown. Banks were allowed to create the risky instruments that were used to defraud millions of homeowners and investors. The commission uncovered direct evidence of crimes. ‘We handed folders over to the Department of Justice that said these things we believe that people did were illegal, but no one has actually gone to jail,’ Murren said.”

“Attorney Tisha Black helped write regulations that shut down the robosigners here. Nevada authorities tried to go after the banks on criminal charges, but states had to back off when federal authorities brokered a settlement. Wall Street agreed to billions in fines, but none of the big bankers were personally prosecuted and for Wall street, that is the moral of the story.”

“‘It’s the morality. There is no morality. They don’t answer to anybody, really. They might get hauled in front of Congress for an embarrassing three-hour session and they’re done. A lot of people would deal with that for a $30 million dollar paycheck,’ Black said.”

“Hundreds of millions of dollars were set aside to help Nevada homeowners after the housing crash. The US Treasury reports in 2011, it was estimated Nevada’s Hardest Hit Fund would help nearly 24,000 homeowners, but this year that estimate was reduced to just more than 8,000. By last March, just more than 5,000 received help. Only 37 percent who applied were approved. Many who started the process gave up because they waited so long for an answer.”

“Mark Bourque is attending a workshop to learn how to stop foreclosure on his home. He says he had tried to get help from NAHAC but hit a dead end. ‘With anything, you want the money to go where it’s intended for because people need help, they need it now,’ said Mark Bourque, attending foreclosure workshop.”

“Eight years after the housing crisis, foreclosure is still so much of a problem, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada has free workshops twice a month to help educate people. According to Realty Trac, there are more than 8,000 homes in the process of foreclosure and Las Vegas is listed as a U.S. metro area with one the highest foreclosure inventories.”

“‘A lot of people believe that this problem is behind us and everything is okay and if it was, we wouldn’t still be having this class,’ said Venicia Considine, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. ‘We still have people everyday that come in here that look for assistance, we have people who are losing their houses.’”

“Options to help struggling homeowners keep their homes five to 10 years ago like home equity lines of credit and modifications are ending. Now their payments are going up. Plus some programs offering aid will shut down by the end of this year. ‘It seems like there’s this belief that everybody’s fine and everybody is not fine,’ Considine said.”

“That includes Beatrice and Armando Cortinas. The I-Team first met them in 2011 when they were living in their backyard as they faced foreclosure. ‘I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe they were throwing me out of my house,’ said Beatrice Cortinas. Five years later, the couple rents a home down the block from the house they continue to insist is theirs. They still kept their dogs and some of their belongings there. ‘I would be able to be paying my house instead of paying this one,’ Beatrice Cortinas said.”

“Back at the workshop, the foreclosure process is a newer challenge for Gia Sinipoli. She says she can’t afford her mortgage after fighting an illness and she has no money for an attorney. It’s the reason she is at the free workshop. She is looking for help and hope. ‘It’s just really stressful to think that every day you have to worry about where you’re going to live,’ she said. And she’s not alone.”