Candidates get earful on housing mess

Crain's Cleveland Business - February 27, 2008

Crain’s Cleveland Business

By Jay Miller

Cleveland politicians and housing leaders who complained that the Democratic debate Tuesday evening didn’t focus on the most important issue to the region — vacant and abandoned housing — got a chance to bring up the subject today to representatives of the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns at a Cleveland City Council forum on the problem.

“Even when they were in Nevada, they knew enough to talk about nuclear waste,” said Cleveland City Council president Martin Sweeney, referring to a concern of Nevadans that a nuclear waste storage facility might be built in their state.

Mark Weisman, who works for Cuyahoga County treasurer Jim Rokakis on the foreclosure problem, said he “watched in disbelief that it was not discussed at the debate.”

So, four panels of speakers proceeded to explain the various facets of the problem for Clinton campaign adviser Fred Hochberg, Obama adviser Mark Alexander and a small crowd of community activists.

Mr. Sweeney said City Council also sent invitations to the Republican candidates still standing, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. He said the Huckabee campaign couldn’t afford to make the meeting, but that the McCain camp 15 minutes before the start of the forum sent a message saying it wasn’t sending a representative.

The panelists offered solutions to various aspects of the crisis, from cleaning up the mortgage brokerage business to federal financial assistance for everything from mortgage counseling to the demolition of abandoned homes.

Sen. Clinton has called for a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures, a five-year freeze on adjustments to variable-rate mortgages, and $30 billion in homeowners’ assistance.

Sen. Obama’s ideas for easing the problem include giving tax credits covering 10% of a struggling homeowner’s annual mortgage interest payments and offering financial assistance for victims of mortgage fraud.

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