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Occupy Wall Street and the Housing Crisis

Posted by: Dan Beucke on October 25, 2011 at 3:25 PM

ows_vegas_blog_600.jpgCan Occupy Las Vegas tap into homeowner anger? It’s an intriguing question that gets to how sustainable the OWS movement can be as it spreads out of downtown New York City. So far, protesters nationwide have won expressions of support — at least in polls — from more than a third of Americans. It may be harder to draw a deeper connection with, or more active participation from, middle-class (or formerly middle-class) folks who’ve been slammed by the financial crisis and are furious with Washington, banks, and Wall Street.

In Las Vegas, many of those folks are homeowners and former construction workers. Everyone knows Nevada leads the nation with a 13.4% unemployment rate. More stunning was the jobless rate for construction workers in the state last year: 40.7%. That’s nearly three times the unemployment rate for factory workers in any state. Laid-off workers can’t make mortgage payments, which is why one in 44 Nevada homes has gotten a foreclosure notice, according to CoreLogic. About 61% of all Nevada mortgages were underwater in August — that is, the value of the mortgage was worth more than the home itself.

On Monday, President Obama hammered home the importance of a housing recovery when he came to Nevada to re-launch his mortgage refinancing program. His latest plan replaces the Home Affordable Refinance Program, which has reached fewer than a fifth of the 5 million borrowers it was supposed to help. The new program aims to double that particpation by the end of 2013. It lifts the 125% mortgage-to-home value cap from the original plan, which should allow more homeowners to refinance at lower rates if they’ve stayed current on payments. But it is only available to those who have loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It doesn’t help that home prices keep dropping.

Occupy Las Vegas got rolling on Oct. 6 with a march through the Vegas strip. Last Friday a few dozen protesters (by count of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper) settled into an encampment in a parking lot next to the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus. A Slate reporter found a marcher whose neighbor’s house got sold in foreclosure. So far, though, you don’t see a lot of talk about construction jobs or mortgage rescue on the group’s web site or at #occupylasvegas on Twitter. The conversation there seems more focused, for now, on corporate villains and bank protests.

Let’s hear from Occupy Las Vegas on what they’d like to see done to address the housing crisis.

(Photographer: Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg)

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"The Wealth Debate" is a running discussion of wealth, poverty, the economy and income inequality in the U.S. and the world. It was started shortly after the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked a global protest about the fallout from the financial crisis and money in politics. You can reach the editors, Dan Beucke and Mark Gimein, by email, or follow BloombergNow on Twitter to keep up with posts.

Analyses or commentary in this blog are the views of the author and or commentators, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

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