Drew Astolfi is the state director of Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) Hawaii–a grassroots, faith-based organization founded in 1996 to work on social issues in our community. Its statewide membership reflects Hawaii’s cultural and socio-economic diversity. FACE has been the first and most effective organization to help local borrowers facing wrongful foreclosures by some large mainland banks, primarily Bank of America.
How did FACE get involved in the foreclosure problem, and which banks were involved?
About a year-and-a-half ago, business agents and pastors for the hotel workers’ union told us stories about people losing their homes through unjust foreclosures. At first, we honestly didn’t realize the problem was so big. So we started asking for the names of the local loan borrowers and looking into their complaints.
After it sort of exploded on our plate, we saw that Bank of America was the most-mentioned mainland lender. And then we heard quite a bit about a few other large off-shore banks.
Did you have a friend/co-worker or someone close to you with a foreclosure problem?
No, it mainly came from local church members who began talking to us. And once people heard we were looking into it, other borrowers started talking to us. In fact, just today the guy who manages Kinko’s pulled me aside and said. “Drew, I have to talk to you. My wife and I have an issue with our mortgage.”
You know, at first people didn’t want to talk to anybody about this because they were filled with shame and fear, and they didn’t believe anything could be done to help. But once they heard about FACE, other people sought us out.
Who do you think is at fault?
The root cause is the deregulation of banks in the ’90s. When that happened, most restrictions on the way banks were allowed to function in the past were removed. You can draw a direct line from the post-New Deal period until about 2008. It actually took about eight to 10 years before the foreclosure problem really hit, and now the bubble has blown up in our face. But it’s different than other economic bubbles like the one that hit Japan in the ’80s. This one is really much bigger and has screwed up the entire global economy.
The governments of England, Germany and France have all gone through the same problems we are now experiencing. Their solution was to bail out their banks, just like we have. But they also required the banks to extend benefits to the wronged homeowners. Unfortunately, our government–under both Bush and Obama–chose not to do that due to fear of “unsettling” the markets.
It’s all about protecting the bank CEOs. Bank of America CEOs got a bonus that is practically the same amount as the cost of the bailout. In addition, the big banks took all the TARP money they could, supposedly to help bail out homeowners. But they are not required to use it for that purpose.
What is FACE doing to help?
Although we are only a small organization, we want the Treasury Department to persuade the large mainland banks to come to Hawaii, since they hold the most mortgages here and are so far away that families are unable to talk directly with them. So far, Bank of America and Wells Fargo have agreed to come here.
We also want to make sure our Attorney General joins the other 50 AG’s in the nation to get the best deal for our state. Also, we came up with a list of actions that other states and legislatures are doing, which could help Hawaii’s legislators pass a good bill. If our state passes a mediation bill [like in Nevada], it will be a big step.
Should Bank of America and some of the other off-shore banks be penalized for unjust actions?
I’ve heard some people say that executives at Bank of America and at other major mainland lenders should go to jail. But I think government experts and larger organizations than FACE can figure that out. For us, were just trying to keep as many folks in their homes as possible.