From the Wall Street Journal:
‘Subprime’ Aftermath: Losing the Family Home
Mortgages Bolstered Detroit’s Middle Class — Until Money Ran Out
By MARK WHITEHOUSE
May 30, 2007; Page A1
For decades, the 5100 block of West Outer Drive in Detroit has been a model of middle-class home ownership, part of an urban enclave of well-kept Colonial residences and manicured lawns. But on a recent spring day, locals saw something disturbing: dandelions growing wild on several properties.
“When I see dandelions, I worry,” says Sylvia Hollifield, an instructor at Michigan State University who has lived on the block for more than 20 years.
Ms. Hollifield’s concern is well-founded. Her neighbors are losing interest in their lawns because they’re losing their homes — a result of the recent boom in “subprime” mortgage lending. Over the past several years, seven of the 26 households on the 5100 block have taken out subprime loans, typically aimed at folks with poor or patchy credit.
In 2006 alone, subprime investors from all over the world injected more than a billion dollars into 22 ZIP Codes in Detroit, where home values were falling, unemployment was rising and the foreclosure rate was already the nation’s highest, according to an analysis of data from First American LoanPerformance. Fourteen ZIP Codes in Memphis, Tenn., attracted an estimated $460 million. Seventeen ZIP Codes in Newark, N.J., pulled in about $1.5 billion. In all of those ZIP Codes, subprime mortgages comprised more than half of all home loans made.
The figures show the extent to which the new world of mortgage finance has made the American dream of homeownership accessible to folks in previously underserved communities. By some estimates, subprime lending has accounted for as much as half of the past decade’s rise in the U.S. homeownership rate to 69% from 65%. But as the experience of West Outer Drive illustrates, the flood of cash has also encouraged people to get into financially precarious positions, often precisely at the time when they were least able to afford it. In doing so, it may have temporarily alleviated — but ultimately worsened — some of the nation’s most acute economic problems.
“The market was feeding an addict at its neediest point,” says Diane Swonk, who spent 19 years analyzing consumer credit in the Midwest and now serves as chief economist at Chicago-based financial-services firm Mesirow Financial. “Individuals will resist reductions in their standard of living with everything in their power, including mortgaging their futures.”