They don’t make the government like they used to.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 @ 6:26 pm | Politics

What we are constantly told we can’t have, we once had.

The Great Depression did not begin with predatory mortgage lending, but economic conditions predictably led to a foreclosure crisis. More than 250,000 families lost their homes to foreclosure in 1932. And every day brought a thousand new foreclosures in the early months of 1933.

As part of its initial legislative barrage on the economic crisis, the Roosevelt administration created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (“HOLC”) in June of 1933, just three months after entering office. The HOLC purchased distressed mortgages from banks, and then negotiated new, more affordable mortgages with the homeowner. Before it ran out of capital in 1935, the HOLC purchased a little more than one million mortgages, or about one in six of the urban home mortgages. (There was a similar program for farm mortgages).

Homeowners applied to the HOLC to buy their mortgage, so the HOLC was able to pick and choose salvageable mortgages. HOLC mortgages required less equity than banks required (20 percent instead of 35 percent) and had lower interest rates (five percent instead of eight percent). The HOLC was indulgent of late or missed payments, and patiently worked with struggling borrowers to prevent default. Still, times were hard and almost 20 percent of HOLC’s mortgages ended in foreclosure.

When the last mortgage was paid off in 1951, the HOLC had turned a slight profit. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote that the HOLC “averted the threatened collapse of the real estate market and enabled financial institutions to return to the mortgage-lending business. … Most important of all, by enabling thousands of Americans to save their homes, it strengthened their stake both in the existing order and in the New Deal. Probably no single measure consolidated so much middle-class support for the Administration.”

Geithner and the elitist Republicans who would block such a measure today can go to Hell.


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