U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) addressed a roomful of renters, housing advocates, and practitioners today as he called for increased protections for consumers, including increased affordable housing opportunities. The senator spoke at the Congressional breakfast on Day 2 of the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Annual Housing Policy Conference.
“A house is so much more than a roof, it is a foundation for a family’s success,” Merkley said, discussing his time as the head of the Portland Habitat for Humanity. “When families are stressed over housing, going through foreclosure, going through an eviction, or living in a basement or a car, you can’t really provide a strong foundation for children or relationships to thrive. This matters enormously.”
Merkley then discussed the ongoing financial crisis that has “impacted families in a very destructive way.” Specifically, Merkley pointed to predatory mortgage practices, and subprime loans with two-year teaser rates and subsequent exploding interest rates with families locked into the loans with pre-payment penalties. Preventing the pre-payment penalties, Merkley, said, would have precluded the teaser rates, and without these forms of loans, he went on, “you wouldn’t have the securities that ended up being ticking time bombs for financial institutions.”
That type of instrument, he said, needs to be banned and has been included in the financial reform legislation under consideration in the Senate, also known as the Dodd Bill, after Sen. Chris Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee.
Merkley also backed a strong consumer financial protection agency. “We haven’t provided the right guidelines,” he said. “We can’t fix these things through legislation — maybe we can occasionally — but we need to respond in a real-time basis: not five years, not 10 years, not 20 years later. And to do that, you need to have an agency.
“The goal of our financial system short-term surges and profits on Wall Street. The goal should be financial stability for every American family.”