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Hi there! I'm a bike messenger by day, aspiring actor by night, and this is my blog. I live in Los Angeles, have a great dog named Jack, and I like piña coladas. (And gettin' caught in the rain.)
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Foreclosure Fail: Study Pins Blame on Big Banks

Over the past several years, we've reported extensively on the big banks' foreclosure failings. As a result of banks' disorganization and understaffing — particularly at the peak of the crisis in 2009 and 2010 — homeowners were often forced to run a gauntlet of confusion, delays, and errors when seeking a mortgage modification.

But while evidence of these problems was pervasive, it was always hard to quantify the damage. Just how many more people could have qualified under the administration's mortgage modification program if the banks had done a better job? In other words, how many people have been pushed toward foreclosure unnecessarily?

A thorough study released last week provides one number, and it's a big one: about 800,000 homeowners.

The study's authors — from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the government's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Ohio State University, Columbia Business School, and the University of Chicago — arrived at this conclusion by analyzing a vast data set available to the OCC. They wanted to measure the impact of HAMP, the government's main foreclosure prevention program.

What they found was that certain banks were far better at modifying loans than others. The reasons for the difference, they established, were pretty predictable: The banks that were better at helping homeowners avoid foreclosure had staff who were both more numerous and better trained.

Unfortunately for homeowners, most mortgages are handled by banks that haven't been properly staffed and thus have modified far fewer loans. If these worse-performing banks had simply modified loans at the same pace as their better performing peers, then HAMP would have produced about 800,000 more modifications. Instead of about 1.2 million modifications by the end of this year, HAMP would have resulted in about 2 million.

That's still well short of the 3-4 million modifications President Obama promised when he announced the program back in early 2009. But it's a big difference, and a reasonable, basic benchmark against which to compare the program's failings.

The report does not identify these poor performing banks, but it's not hard to ID them. A "few large servicers [have offered] modifications at half the rate of others," the authors say. The largest mortgage servicers are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi.

Bank of America in particular (the largest of all the servicers when HAMP launched) has been far slower to modify loans than even the other large servicers, as other analyses we've cited have shown.

Rick Simon, a spokesman for Bank of America, said the banks' "home retention results are significant and in line with our industry peers to date."

The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) paid subsidies to mortgage servicers on the theory that doing so would convince them to embrace modifications. The authors say that voluntary approach apparently didn't have much effect with the biggest servicers. They weren't very good at modifying loans before HAMP was launched and weren't much better after it launched.

The authors wrote that while they can't be sure why these banks underperformed, they "may not have responded to the program since doing so would involve changing their business focus from processing and channeling payments to actively renegotiating loans. In addition, this may have involved significantly altering their organizational capabilities, such as building appropriate infrastructure and hiring and training servicing staff."

That echoes on our reporting on how ill-suited the big banks were when it came to modifying loans. The result inside the banks has sometimes been chaos. As one Bank of America employee complained, "The whole documentation collection thing has got to be purposely not funded. Like, I can't get a fax. I work for a huge bank that has tons of money, and you're telling me that I can't get a fax?"

Since HAMP's oversight has been lax — the Treasury Department, which runs the program, has responded indulgently to mortgage servicers breaking HAMP's rules — banks haven't had to worry much about their low modification rates. (You can see this explained with a song. It's also a big part of our book on the foreclosure crisis.)

A Treasury spokeswoman, responding to the new report, said HAMP had resulted in "one of the most comprehensive compliance reviews of mortgage servicing operations in the country. Servicers in the Making Home Affordable Program are subject to an unprecedented level of compliance oversight."

The report did have some positive findings concerning HAMP. As we've reported, modifications in the program have been more generous to homeowners than modifications done outside HAMP. The authors also found that the program did boost the number of modifications — i.e. it caused modifications that likely would not have happened if not for the program.

The authors also say that HAMP might have induced more modifications if the program had not required such extensive screening of homeowners seeking a modification. From the program's launch, the administration emphasized that the program wouldn't help the wrong sort of "irresponsible" homeowner. That emphasis led to requirements that homeowners send in lots of paperwork to prove their income, which in turn further taxed the big servicers' inadequate systems.

Despite the recent stabilization in home prices and a drop in the rate of homeowners falling behind on their payments, HAMP's limited impact remains a very relevant issue. Even in the sixth year of the foreclosure crisis, the country remains saddled with an extraordinarily high number of loans in foreclosure — about 2 million. That backlog hasn't improved much in the last couple years, meaning it's still hard to forecast when the foreclosure rate will return to a normal level.

This article has been republished from ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Get your Deep Patriot shirt today

"Deep patriots don't just sing the song, 'America the Beautiful' and then go home. We actually stick around to defend America’s beauty -- from the oil spillers, the clear-cutters and the mountaintop removers. Deep patriots don't just visit the Statue of Liberty and send a postcard home to grandma. We defend the principles upon which that great monument was founded -- 'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.'" -Van Jones I'm the graphic designer here at Rebuild. I loved that quote so much, I decided to put it on a shirt... and so far, it's a hit! I've got mine, do you want one?

This is the kind of patriotism our country needs right now more than ever. With a big election coming up in just a few months, this is the perfect time to get this message on a shirt for Rebuild members to proudly wear. You can order yours today by clicking here.

Van Jones On The Second Presidential Debate: Who Is A Strong Leader And Who Is On Your Side?

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced off again last night in the second presidential debate. Watch Van Jones evaluate each candidate’s overall performance, and their responses to questions on gender equality and green jobs and read Van's opinion pieces on CNN before and after the debate. Paul Ryan is the ultimate anti-women running mate for Romney: Van’s advice for Obama: defend your green job record Obama has added 125,000 green jobs in Ohio, which Romney would be sure to cut Women’s rights to Romney: binders full of women, who get home on time to cook dinner The moment that will go down in debate history

DeMarco’s other victims: green jobs, renewable energy for homeowners

The “un-fan” club of Ed DeMarco, Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is getting bigger and bigger.  This morning, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Michael Brune, International President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard, and Van Jones joined forces to ask President Obama: Please replace DeMarco already. “As the head of a union that witnessed many members suffer job losses during the worst of the Great Recession, I hate to see anyone lose their job. In the case of Ed DeMarco, however, he’s got to go,” said the Steelworkers’ Gerard. At first glance, this may seem like an unlikely alliance.  What could have the Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency done to tick off both greens and labor? DeMarco is standing in the way of providing "principal reduction" to millions of Americans whose homes are underwater, meaning they owe more money on their mortgage than their homes are now worth. Principal reduction would adjust the size of the loan to more accurately reflect the current home value. According to Gerard, this can help prevent deterioration of home values, since homeowners who aren’t underwater are less likely to walk away from their homes and will continue to pay their mortgage.  Principal reduction could help keep millions of families together in their homes, and DeMarco’s resistance to it is tearing these families apart. And it turns out that principal reduction isn't the only thing that DeMarco is stopping.  He also blocked another great idea called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which could’ve created tens or hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs, allowed millions of Americans to save thousands of dollars in energy costs, and cut pollution.  “In his four years at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Ed DeMarco has stood as a barrier to progress and job creation,” Brune said. “Sierra Club and our 1.4 million members and supporters are proud to join this effort with Rebuild the Dream, Steelworkers and the greater progressive community.” Here’s what would’ve happened if DeMarco didn’t block Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from participating in PACE: If you were a homeowner who wanted to install solar panels and energy efficient equipment to your house, you could apply for financial assistance with your city government program.  Once you’d installed these technologies, your property value would get reassessed.  Because the house would now be more energy efficient, the value would go up, and the cost of the installation would be covered by the increased property taxes you'd be paying over the next 20 years.  If you decided to move out of your house, the house’s next owner would inherit the upgrades and assume the responsibility to pay for them. It would be a true win-win for everyone.  The expensive upfront costs would be spread out over the course of 20 years, so you wouldn’t need to tighten your wallet.  You’d save thousands of dollars in energy costs through the years.  Pollution would be reduced, and pollution-related disease rate would go down in your community.  And desperately needed, well-paid union jobs would be created to help families get back on track.  According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, even if only one percent of all American households participated in PACE, 226,000 jobs would be generated. PACE was a very popular concept: 28 states authorized PACE’s implementation, and hundreds of local governments began to develop the financial structure for PACE.  FHFA’s reason for blocking it?  The property tax assessment (a “lien” in tax language) takes priority over the mortgage if a homeowner defaults.  FHFA claimed that this is risky to lenders, and that PACE’s funding mechanism is not essential to encourage energy conservation. Let’s review: DeMarco is one bureaucrat standing in the way of two great ideas that would create jobs, help the environment and homeowners, and save taxpayers money.  Getting rid of this guy is just common-sense -- and it needs to happen immediately.  Join more than 100,000 Rebuilders, members of Sierra Club, and Steelworkers to tell President Obama: DeMarco has REALLY got to go.  Now.  

America is being robbed!

Wow - we had such a massive response to Van’s email yesterday that it temporarily broke our donation page! Not only are folks chipping in, creative Rebuilders are replying back offering their talents and ideas to help spread this message far and wide. Right now, this whole budget conversation is bad ideas chasing worse ideas off a cliff. Check out Van's email below and help us end the madness.
Rebuilder, You've probably seen a lot of stories this week about how Mitt Romney just lost the election by choosing Paul Ryan for his running mate. I think those thoughts are dangerously misplaced. Here's why: Ryan is THE most effective weapon the other side has. He makes the argument for austerity with passion, poise and skill. He is a true believer. Vice President Biden better eat his Wheaties before the debate. If they win, they can claim a clear mandate to destroy everything that made the American Dream possible. And even if they lose, they'll shift the debate to the right so that any December ‘grand bargain’ will only cut Medicare a little instead of a lot. They'll have the whole country thinking America is "broke," when the truth is that a handful of the super-rich are bleeding us dry and cutting the net out from under the middle class. Here’s the real truth: America is NOT broke, America is Being Robbed. We can prevail. But we have to bring our A game. We need to defeat their arguments, not push watered-down alternatives. So today, we're launching a BIG campaign to get this message out there: America is Being Robbed. Americans already suspect the game is rigged against them. They're just looking for who to blame, and who has a plan to fix things. We've got a chance to break through. We need to frame the terms of the debate and win the war of ideas. If we don't, even a victory in November won't stop the worst of the 1% from tearing down the American Dream. So here's our plan. From now through the election and on into December, we will: Engage artists to change public opinion. We won't persuade people with more fact sheets and numbers. We need to organize artists and musicians to create inspiring projects that expose how Americans are being robbed every day by banks, corporations and the politicians that they own. Make it an election issue. Get candidates to go on the record on our issues by filling out the 99Elect questionnaire, and use campaigns and in-district events to show which candidates are willing to help stop the robbery (even if they need a push sometimes) -- and which ones are driving the getaway car. Expose the villains and lift up the victims. Expose the people who are dodging taxes, taking subsidies and ripping us off. We'll use advertising and public pressure, and tirelessly work the media to put the heartbreaking stories of their victims front and center. Educate and explain. The right uses complexity as a weapon of deception to hide how a handful of people are robbing America. We're going to share graphics, videos, and stories, and provide you the tools to tell this story in your community with online message trainings led by some of the best progressive communicators in the business. Are you in? We need to raise $100,000 for a multi-month campaign of this magnitude. Even $10 today will help, big time. The most eye-opening part of my job is getting to meet and talk to so many people. We talk in airports, in church basements, in coffee shops. They tell me about losing the homes they raised their kids in. Picking up groceries at the food bank they used to give to. Struggling to make rent because they were scammed into a student loan with all sorts of extra fees. Wanting to work. Begging to work. But finding no jobs because big corporations are hoarding profits instead of hiring and Washington D.C. just doesn't seem to care. Somehow, Washington has made the whole conversation about budget numbers. But it's not. It's about people who are hurting. We can never forget that. We CANNOT back down. Thanks, Van, and the rest of the Rebuild the Dream team
We're super excited to start telling this story. For more on how America is being robbed check out this video from Van's speech last year at the Rebuild the Dream event in NYC:

Hundreds of Homeowners Call Congress Demanding A Vote For Homeowner Relief

Yesterday, Rebuilders from across the country spoke up for homeowners and demanded a vote to force banks to allow responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgages at today’s record-low interest rates. Hundreds of calls have been reported so far! If you haven’t already please take 60 seconds  to call your senator and demand they pass this commonsense bill before the August recess. Here's yesterday's email from Ian in case you missed it:
Rebuilder, This week Rebuilders in swing states are delivering tens of thousands of your signatures to local Senate offices, demanding that Congress force banks to allow responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgages at today’s record-low interest rates. Homeowners are in serious trouble, while banks rake in record profits and Congress sits on its hands. Our efforts have definitely got their attention, but right now, we’re hearing conflicting reports about Congress's willingness to pass this legislation. So we don’t know for sure what they plan to do. If we can force a vote, it will help make the housing crisis an election year issue. So we need to figure out -- fast -- where the Senate stands, because we only have one week before Congress goes on recess. After that the only thing they will care about is the November election. Can you take 60 seconds to call your senators to find out their position on homeowner relief legislation? Just click here to go to our call page. We have all the information you need, including:
  • Your senators' phone numbers
  • A quick script for what questions to ask (the whole call should take under a minute)
  • A form where you can report back what you found out
We're sending this message to enough people to get about 5 phone calls per senate office, which should be just enough to get the information we need. And along the way, we'll also send a clear signal that everyday voters really care about this solution. That could be enough to force a vote. This is a commonsense proposal that will keep folks in their homes. There’s no reason Congress shouldn’t pass this -- but we all know how Washington works. If we can just force a vote, however, then the millions of 'Underwater Voters' will know who to hold accountable in November for Washington's inaction. Click here to go to our call page and let us know where your Senators stand on homeowner relief legislation. Speak up today and let them know you're paying attention, that you vote, and that you'll remember what they did (or didn't do) while people were losing their homes. Thanks, Ian and the Rebuild the Dream team

A very dangerous lie

Last Thursday Van asked Rebuilders across the nation to join him in rejecting the most dangerous lie in America -- that we are broke and therefore are helpless to do anything meaningful to fix our economy. We’re committed to putting an end to that lie and telling the truth - America is NOT broke, we’re being robbed! Take a look at Van’s message below and join tens of thousands of Rebuilders who have committed to reject this lie and help spread the truth.
Rebuilder, You hear it again and again. "America is broke." Whenever we ask our elected leaders to do anything, that's what they say. No scholarships for our kids? Bridges falling down and roads crumbling? No jobs program to put Americans back to work? "Well, that's too bad," they say. "We can't afford to fix anything. America is broke." This is a very dangerous lie. It freezes people into thinking there is no solution... when there is. But it gets repeated, and repeated. You start to think you're crazy -- and they are right. So that's where we need to start. Will you commit, right now, to reject this lie and help us spread the truth? Add your name now. In the coming weeks, we'll be following up with everyone who makes this commitment with opportunities to get involved and get this message out there: America is Being Robbed. Our economy today is almost as big and rich as all of Europe's COMBINED -- including economic powerhouses like Germany. Our economy today is almost twice as big as China's. (And we have only one third of the Chinese population.) No other country even comes close to our wealth. If that is so, then how come only some of us are hurting? How come big corporate profits are at an all-time high while people are out of work? Why are Wall Street banks thriving while folks are losing their homes? One reason: global corporations and big banks are hoarding so much cash, refusing to recirculate it in the form of fair taxes and good wages. Instead, they use a few of their extra bucks to buy elections and elected officials -- Paul Ryan is just the worst example, not the only one. Those politicians then try to convince us that we should all accept more misery, while their mega-donors stockpile more cash than the Pharoahs ever dreamed about having. Enough is enough. If someone tells you we're too broke to do anything positive, ask them where the money went. Ask them who got a big bonus last year. Who got a new private jet? Ask about the Bush tax giveaways for the rich. Ask about the bailouts for Wall Street. Ask about tax shelters, subsidies for polluters, Halliburton expense accounts, or the massive bill for two wars. Fighting back starts with each of us making the choice to reject the myth, and committing that we won't sit silent while today's robber barons set the terms of the debate. So say it with me: "We're not broke -- we're being robbed, and I commit to fight back!" Families aren't just "falling" out of the middle class. They're being pushed. I promise I'll be out there pushing this. But this community together has way more power than any one person. Let's stand together, Van and the rest of the Rebuild the Dream team

Van Jones Explains How The Hope Is Back With Obama Second Inaugural

On January 21, 2013, America celebrated the Second Inauguration of Barack Obama. While crowds cheered Obama's support of LGBT equality and equal pay for women, Rebuild the Dream President Van Jones gave real-time commentary on CNN and shared the personal and historic impact of the day.
"I think about my father. My father was in Memphis on April 4, 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated. He said he felt like they were trying to kill hope in America. And then I was with my father when he was on his death bed in 2008. He'd look up and see Obama and say, 'The hope is back.'"
Check out the entire clip on YouTube, and check out Van's op-ed on Obama's Inaugural as a rebuttal to Reaganism at CNN Opinion.

Good News, Bad News and the Fiscal Showdown

You've probably read the headlines about a fiscal cliff. Here's the good news: America will not FLY off into financial catastrophe on January 1st. The bad news is members of Congress may use the threat and hype of the fiscal cliff to CUT Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, help for the needy, and more. Catch Van explain the fiscal showdown and why the word “cliff” wants to make him bang his head on the table. The economy is recovering, but we can’t turn back now. Over 350 economists have signed on to a letter telling Congress to prioritize job growth over a manufactured austerity crisis. We should avoid a bad deal that sells out our earned benefits and kills jobs to avoid a "cliff" that isn't real.