America's Collapsing Middle Class, Capitalism, Corporate State, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, End-Stage Capitalism, Financial Elite, Homeowners Association, Housing Bubble, Privatization, Regulatory Capture, Rentier Class, Savings and Loan Crisis, The Elite 1%, Wall Street Fraud
Dateline 1981, Orange County, CA and what was to become ground zero for global mortgage fraud, perpetrated by the likes of Angelo Mozilla, nicknamed by the media Agent Orange for his decadent fake (and very nearly orange) tan of the criminal overclass, we begin with the nascent dawn of Reagan’s “Morning in America” on the cusp of the soon to break Savings and Loan Crisis.
The scene was a 2 ½ hour drive to a nondescript 3 bedroom tract home in Huntington Beach, about a mile or two from the ocean. It was the parent’s home of a fellow college student who was taking advantage of their parent’s vacation to host a party, replete with backyard keg and the requisite single light bulb lamp nearby to prevent spills.
With all the irony of the two working parent hierarchy of the times, the homeowners were so busy with their jobs that neither had time to go to the beach, the dreary patina of tract home living had quietly subsumed the idealism of living near the beach.
This was not lost on the college aged son, who upon learning that the house would be vacant, promptly released word of the party. We arrived to the house after the considerable drive, and found amplifiers and a drum set already assembled in the living room, with microphone stand at the ready. After mingling aimlessly for an hour or two amongst the preppy college students with Izod shirt logos and sweaters with arms carefully folded around their necks, the cacophony of Bob Seger and the “Silver Bullet Band” began to grate on our nerves.
There is only so much you can take, but we knew something they did not-there was to be a special guest.
Indeed, after another stultifying hour, a beat up van pulled up out front, and three guys wearing surfer shorts and tee shirts came inside and plugged in their guitars. They played but three songs, and this was one of them:
Afterwards, they abruptly left. In the vacuum left behind, there was a palatable unease, sweaters were nervously adjusted, no one really said anything. Someone put the Bob Seger album back on, which thankfully was put out of its misery with the elliptical trajectory of an angry beer bottle.
Forward to 2008, high rise office towers with names like “Dieco”, “Countrywide”, and “Indy Mac” prominently displayed, which housed platoons of tens of thousands of mortgage workers who filled these towers every day. Their “products” were mortgages and refi’s, doling out money to whoever had a pulse and a desire to own a piece of the American dream, then securitizing these phony loans to sell off to pension funds and other unsuspecting investors.
The well publicized financing arm of the mortgage crisis gets all the attention, but behind the scenes we have something much more interesting occurring. To illustrate, we again go to the epicenter of all that went wrong in the mortgage cum real estate biz, Orange County, CA.
To enable the construction of vast numbers of new homes that will serve as the collateralization of these new dollars to be leant, we need institutional infrastructure designed to encourage inventor participation and insure equity growth. In other words, we need giveaways.
With infrastructure too big a charter for small independent developers and investors, a new entity emerged, that of the Master Planned Community. Usually dominated by large regional landowners with significant political connections already in place, they began in earnest to create circumstances favorable to large scale tract development, a process that was prototyped with the first large scale master planned community in the ‘70’s (Irvine, CA), and then rapidly ported to other states and counties.
In California, Prop 13 limits the amount of YOY property tax that can be assessed. But to grow and develop hundreds of thousands of new homes, this requires infrastructure, such as schools, utilities and roads. In the first major attempt to privatize large swaths of the public domain, a bond mechanism legislation called “Mello-Roos” was enacted, enabling developers to externalize all of the infrastructure costs onto the homeowners in the form of a tax supplement, which is not governed by Prop 13. It is very nearly impossible to buy new construction in CA without falling under this forced bond payment. It is often very near 100% of the standard (mandatory) State property tax. The bonds are nominally for 20 years, but most homeowners will tell you they never go away, constantly renewed with no redress for residents.
This privatization sets in motion the walling off of entire communities, and in so doing, of course some type of privatized governance must be constructed and imposed on the new homeowners so as to “protect their investment”. This is done in the form of an H.O.A, or homeowners association, who govern and regulate the homeowners under a privatized army of volunteers, enforcing a Byzantine set of rules and regulations. They do so by collecting the H.O.A dues, which can range up to $800-900/month in some communities, paid monthly by each homeowner, and it should be noted that failure to pay will result in forfeiture of your property.
The bylaws and regulations that are administered by the H.O.A are published in a lengthy document (usually several hundred pages) listing all the infractions that can result in a penalty being assessed. They govern what color you can paint your house, what contractor you must use for painting your house, how neat your yard must be (mandatory landscaping) strict architectural rules (no changes allowed) and incredibly, how long your garage door may remain open during the day, how long your trash cans may remain on the street after pickup, and strict “lifestyle” provisions.
If you violate any one of the hundreds of regulations, you will be assessed a fine, and if you fail to pay the fine, you will forfeit your property. To enforce this, a group of volunteers usually “walks” the neighborhood, clipboards in hand, to note any and all infractions that can result in fines being assessed.
Hell hath no fury like a HOA privatized government volunteer with clipboard in hand and hard hat jauntily worn, the stern gaze of compliance ready to stare down errant homeowners foolhardy enough to think their carbon copy “Plan B” faux Mediterranean air conditioned nightmare is their castle. The lender has collateralized 30 years of any and all possible equity appreciation in the form of a mortgage, the HOA has established a privatized, regulation filled “government” that under the guise of mutual contractual consent has put in place rules and regulations that no public government on earth would get away with, sublimely forfeiting many constitutional protections (such as due process), including specifically forfeiting the ability to file homestead claims on your own property (protection for the primary residence from creditors in the event of a personal bankruptcy), the authoritarian noose of end stage capitalism begins to tighten the slipnot of compliance around the necks of the middle class homeowners, who almost universally wave their tiny flags and shout liberty, down with government, and up with free markets, blissfully unaware just how far down the river they have been sold.
Home ownership was originally advocated at the national level in the late ‘40’s just after WWII as a means to give the middle class a “stake” in their future, but mostly to discourage civil unrest under the principle that property ownership was an impediment to middle class organization of anti-establishment activities.
My, look how far we’ve come.