Katie contributes to Woodstock’s policy development, outreach, coalition building, and communications efforts. Katie also contributes to Woodstock's research and analysis, including reports on the effect of demographics and institutional characteristics on student debt, disparate impacts of negative equity on Chicago area communities and racial disparities in FHA/VA lending. Interests include student debt reform, impacts of and solutions to the foreclosure crisis, homeownership preservation, community reinvestment, consumer finance, financial reform, and financial security over the life cycle. Her projects include crafting informative and engaging communications strategies for economic security issues, assisting the convening of the Regional Home Ownership Preservation Initiative, and developing ways to make Woodstock's data and research more accessible and interactive.
“I combine data-driven policy analysis and effective communication strategies to advocate for better policy solutions to issues facing low-wealth communities and communities of color,” says Katie.
Prior to joining the Woodstock Institute, Katie gained experience in research and communications as a reporter and intern at Chicago Public Radio and the Chicago Reader.
Katie received her Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago and received her B.A. with honors in Public Policy Studies and Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago.
Recent posts by Katie Buitrago
Data from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) show that the Illinois Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) is reaching a broader group of struggling homeowners and offering greater amounts of assistance than in the previous quarter. At the same time, the length of time it takes to process the HHF application is growing.
New reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) indicate that checking accounts still charge high overdraft fees, often without adequate disclosures. Overdraft fees function as high-cost, short-term loans and can be structured in a manner that triggers many fees so that banks can maximize fee income. In 2010, the Federal Reserve enacted new regulations requiring that consumer affirmatively opt in to receive overdraft protection, but these reports show that there are still unresolved issues with overdraft.
Bipartisanship may seem like a long-lost cause in today’s Congress, but there are some groups who are still working to foster consensus from both sides of the aisle. The Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission is holding hearings throughout the country in order to shape a policy agenda on pressing housing issues that could gain support from Democrats and Republicans alike. This week in St. Louis, I testified before the BPC Housing Commission on the issue of concentrated negative equity in communities of color (video is here, starting at 4 hours 46 minutes). I asked them to support allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to engage in principal reductions and to encourage mortgage servicers to streamline short sales and expand principal reduction programs.
As new high school and college graduates head out into the world this spring, many will be taking control of their financial lives for the first time. More and more young people are choosing higher-cost alternative financial products, such as prepaid cards, instead of traditional bank accounts. As prepaid cards become more popular, particularly with those new to the financial system, it’s even more important that there are adequate consumer protections in place to ensure that prepaid cards don’t drain wealth from consumers.
The news about unemployment for people new to the workforce is chilling. With headlines declaring young adults “Generation Jobless” and statistics showing that only half of people aged 18-24 are employed, it’s a challenging environment for young people looking to start their careers—and for their wallets. How are young people coping financially with a world of unpaid internships, part-time service jobs, intermittent freelance gigs, and moving in with Mom and Dad? A smart and funny new blog, the Billfold, is exploring the strategies people are using to cope with a tight job market by drawing heavily on personal stories, offering tips on improving personal finance, and discussing how financial news impacts people’s daily lives.
Woodstock Institute and more than 120 Chicago community investment stakeholders celebrated the successes of local leaders and learned about the causes behind the financial crisis at last week’s 2012 Community Investment Awards and screening of The Flaw. Woodstock Institute president Dory Rand presented Community Investment Awards to Adam Gross of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, and Mary Ellen Podmolik of the Chicago Tribune.
The Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA) portion of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) experienced slow growth in new participants, new data show. PRA, which is designed to incentivize servicers to write down principal as part of the loan modification process, saw relatively flat levels of 15-17,000 trial modifications for the past seven months. At the same time, PRA permanent modifications grew steadily, suggesting that servicers are converting trial modifications into permanent ones but are not aggressively recruiting new participants to the program.
CHICAGO—Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan will deliver the keynote address at Woodstock Institute’s annual Community Investment Awards and screening of David Sington’s documentary The Flaw. Attorney General Madigan will focus her remarks on how the attorney general settlement with the country’s five largest servicers will impact Illinois homeowners.
We’re profiling the accomplishments of the leaders we will honor at the Community Investment Awards. Buy tickets now.
It’s hard to read much about the Chicago area housing market without running into a story by Mary Ellen Podmolik. Podmolik, a housing reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has tirelessly covered local housing news, from big-ticket real estate deals to the impact of the foreclosure crisis on the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, since 2008. In the process, Podmolik has established herself as an authoritative voice on the latest developments in housing, from federal policy to local realities. Woodstock Institute is pleased to honor Mary Ellen Podmolik with a 2012 Community Investment Award for better informing the Chicago region on the debates surrounding the foreclosure crisis, helping consumers make educated decisions, and telling the stories of Chicagoans impacted by the housing bust.
Chicago made history last year by passing a first-of-its-kind ordinance that makes sure that financial institutions are responsible for keeping homes in which they have an interest from falling into blight and disrepair. Data released today by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office show that the ordinance is already making a difference in how the City holds financial institutions responsible for vacant property maintenance.
We’re profiling the accomplishments of the leaders we will honor at the Community Investment Awards. Buy tickets now.
A family on the South Side of Chicago receives a notice from the sheriff that foreclosure proceedings are beginning on their house. Although the family has the right to stay in the home until proceedings are completed, they aren’t aware of that. Fearful of having their belongings thrown out on the street, the family moves out into a smaller apartment and leaves the home vacant.
Woodstock Institute and its board of directors are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2012 Community Investment Awards: Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Adam Gross of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), and Mary Ellen Podmolik of the Chicago Tribune. The recipients will be honored at Woodstock Institute’s annual Community Investment Awards reception on May 10, followed by a screening of David Sington’s documentary The Flaw.
Legislation before the Illinois Senate would allow occupied properties to be declared as vacant and abandoned. Why is this problematic? Once a property is declared vacant and abandoned, it would be eligible to have the foreclosure process accelerated. This strips families of due process to attempt to save their homes. Our colleagues at Housing Action Illinois say, “Without adequate protections to insure that buildings can only be designated abandoned if truly unoccupied, this legislation conflicts with the existing rights of occupants under the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law and the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act to 90 days notice before being evicted.”
New data from Woodstock Institute show that more fixed-rate loans are in foreclosure at the end of 2011
Conventionally underwritten mortgages represent a growing percentage of new foreclosure filings, new data from Woodstock Institute show. In addition, nearly a quarter of new foreclosure filings in 2011 were on loans originated before 2005, showing that the foreclosure crisis impacts even those homeowners who have been able to afford their monthly payments for six years or more.
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“The average time it takes to complete a foreclosure has nearly tripled nationwide, from four months in 2007 to about a year at the end of 2011, according to RealtyTrac, with the slowdown most evident in some of the hardest-hit states, including California, Florida and Illinois. Homeowners in Florida who default can now expect to wait more than two years in legal limbo, the one big upside being the opportunity to remain at home without paying for home.
At long last, policymakers are starting to turn their attention toward the problems caused by negative equity. Between a robosigning settlement with $17 billion for principal reductions and new Home Affordable Modification Program incentives for writing down principal, homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth may be finally getting some relief. But those two initiatives target only a small fraction of underwater homeowners, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac still do not allow principal to be written down on the loans they back—some 60 percent of the market. There is still more to be done to address negative equity and the effects it has on families, communities, and the housing market. Some may wonder, why does negative equity even matter? How does it affect me if my neighbor’s house is underwater? We took a look at the research on the impacts of negative equity and found that when negative equity is widespread, communities lose, too.
Last year, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) announced how it would allocate funding from the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) to help homeowners facing a loss in income. While it is still early to assess the performance of the program—Illinois’ program was just opened to the public in September 2011—preliminary data from IHDA’s reports to the Department of the Treasury give a sense of whom the program is serving and what kinds of economic conditions they face. The data show that homeowners helped by HHF not only face challenges due to unemployment, but also are often deeply "underwater" as well (the mortgage is higher than the value of the home).
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other state Attorneys General, announced the $25 billion settlement of an investigation into widespread robosigning practices within the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and Ally Bank. Illinois will receive more than $1 billion to write down principal, help underwater homeowners (those who owe more than their homes are currently worth) refinance, compensate homeowners who were harmed by robosigning, and address the causes and impacts of the robosigning and foreclosure crisis.