Anita Hill: Mortgage Plan a ‘Quick Fix’

The attorney explains why Obama's plan and fair-lending settlements don't address the full problem.

On Wednesday President Obama unveiled a housing plan to help more pinched homeowners, calling on Congress to make it easier to refinance for “responsible” people who are current on their mortgages. Since earlier refinancing efforts have fallen short of White House expectations, this updated version would allow eligible homeowners to refinance into loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, paid for with a fee on the nation’s largest banks.

It was the latest in a string of actions related to the foreclosure crisis, including a $335 million Department of Justice settlement with Countrywide Financial Corp. for unfairly steering black and Latino families into subprime loans, and the creation of a special federal unit to further investigate abusive lending practices.

“Government must take responsibility for rules that are fair and fairly enforced,” Obama said on Wednesday at a Virginia community center, where he announced the plan. “Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that helped cause this crisis in the first place.”

But for Anita Hill (yes, that Anita Hill), professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, the president’s plan is simply inadequate. Having explored the crippling effect of the subprime crisis on African-American communities in her latest book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home, she told The Root why she thinks his remedies are merely a starting point, the more holistic solutions that the White House ought to be considering and why criminal prosecutions for corporate fraud must be put on the table.

The Root: Do you think that Obama’s new housing plan, making it easier for “responsible” homeowners who are current on their mortgages to refinance, is an improvement on his previous efforts?

Anita Hill: I see it as an extension of one remedy, of opening up to more people who are in need. It’s a good one. But this eliminates a lot of people who are behind on their mortgages. I reject the idea that those individuals are not responsible people. They are trying to live up to their obligations. A lot of people who are behind, for example, haven’t just decided to walk away from mortgages.