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
This week, our staff explored new trends changing the way the worlds of manufacturing, capitalism, and expanding cities and finds out how the internet gifted Detroit with RoboCop.
The regulatory environment continues to look more and more unfriendly to providers of income tax refund anticipation loans (RALs), which is great news for consumers. On the heels of recent actions by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) limiting RAL activity in the banks it regulates, the FDIC notified the largest remaining bank that provides RALs, Republic Bancorp, that it considers the practice to be “unsafe and unsound.” Republic can contest the notice within 60 days; the bank has indicated that it’s not going to let go of RALs without a fight.
Whether it’s sharing best practices, catching up with colleagues at like-minded organizations, or meeting with policy makers, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s 2011 Annual Conference promises to brings together hundreds of community leaders, development experts, bankers, legislators, regulators, academics and others. Participants explore and debate the state of the industry and measures needed to ensure fair access to capital and to bring more people into the financial mainstream.
This week, our staff wonders about disappearing Chicago neighborhoods and vanishing identities, ponders the solution to suburban Sunbelt poverty, finds out that some payday lenders are partnering with Indian tribes to circumvent regulations, and looks for truly delectable Japanese beef in America.
The Chicago six-county region saw nearly 80,000 new foreclosure filings in 2010, says data released today by Woodstock Institute. This 14 percent increase in new foreclosures from 2009 to 2010 happened in spite of a dip in the fourth quarter of 2010, likely due to the moratoria many mortgage servicers instated after it was discovered that a number of servicers were improperly preparing foreclosure documents.
“Clearly, the foreclosure problem in the Chicago area is not going away anytime soon,” said Senior Vice President Geoff Smith. “Even though many foreclosures were halted for several months in 2010, the region still saw double-digit increases from 2009 to 2010. It is likely that we will see an even larger jump in foreclosures in early 2011.”
Loan servicers, who typically steward homes through the foreclosure process, came under scrutiny several months ago for problems ensuring the validity of foreclosure documents. Many of the country’s largest servicers allegedly employed “robo-signers,” often underpaid and under-trained employees who signed thousands of statements testifying to the accuracy of the foreclosure paperwork without actually ensuring that the statements were true. When some files were scrutinized, it was found that the servicer may not have had the right to pursue foreclosure because the mortgage debt had not been properly transferred. After a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that declared two such foreclosures invalid, the legality of thousands of foreclosures has been called into question.
The Home Affordable Modification Program has modestly improved the level of modification activity in Chicago this month, though its pace continues to be far slower than what’s necessary to address the foreclosure crisis (see our previous analyses). There were 35,012 active modifications in the region in December 2010, up 3.57 percent from last month’s 33,806.
This week, our staff reads about sports and head injuries, farms run by single-celled organisms, innovative strategies that foundations and nonprofits are pursuing to maintain levels of giving during the recession, and the almost prurient interest in the decay of Midwestern post-industrial cities.
Experian, a major credit bureau, announced last week that it would start including data on rent payment into a segment of their credit reports. Currently, they are going to report only positive payment history, such as continuous and on-time payment of rent; negative payment history will be included in 2012.
One person I met this weekend is an example of how including rental payment history on credit reports could help consumers. I took a cab on Saturday afternoon and, as I got in, my driver immediately waved a sheaf of papers at me.
This week, our staff takes an unusual interest in Camden, New Jersey, and its police problems and medical successes, looks for guidance before running a marathon, and discovers that we can now precisely control an army of nematodes. Who knew?
Our latest report, “Left Behind: Troubled Foreclosed Properties and Servicer Accountability in Chicago,” has created a wave of buzz from the Chicago region and beyond, generating dozens of stories, thousands of comments, and scores of tweets and Facebook posts. In case you missed it, the report found thousands of troubled foreclosed homes in Chicago that are likely poorly maintained, lack clear ownership, and threaten to destabilize neighborhoods. These homes include what we call “red flag” properties, where a servicer has decided not to complete the foreclosure process, and likely-vacant lender-owned properties that are not registered with the City of Chicago potentially in violation of its vacant properties ordinance.
A look at what catches our staffers’ attention when we’re not busily putting out reports:
When you drive through a distressed neighborhood and see blocks upon blocks of boarded-up houses, you might think that some lender is desperately trying to get those properties off its hands. Some of those homes, however, might not even be on the lender’s radar: they’re sitting in a sort of legal limbo where the lender refuses to complete the foreclosure and the homeowner is long gone. Woodstock Institute is releasing a report later this week that examines what happens when a loan servicer decides that it’s not worth it to pursue foreclosure and the property sits vacant, a phenomenon known as a “lender walkaway.”
2010 was a heartening year for consumer advocates working to eliminate income tax refund anticipation loans (RALs), the high-cost loans that strip assets from low-wealth tax filers. First, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the federal regulator of national banks, issued a policy statement regulating the provision of RALs that strengthened its hand compared to previously unenforced policies. On the heels of that announcement, Chase announced it was leaving the RAL business. Chase was the second of the three major banks who provided RALs to withdraw, following Santa Barbara Bank & Trust’s forced exit in 2009. In August, the IRS announced it would stop facilitating the preparation of RALs by providing information on a borrower’s debts to tax preparers. Finally, the year ended with more happy news: the OCC ordered the third main RAL provider, HSBC, to stop providing RALs, leaving H&R Block without a bank partner for the upcoming tax season. Republic Bank and Trust, an FDIC-regulated bank that is currently the last bank around to provide RAL financing, is even limiting the amount of funding available to its RALs, including those arranged by Jackson Hewitt. With few financing options left for tax preparers who want to make wealth-stripping loans to working families, this could be the beginning of the end for RALs as a meaningful market.
Woodstock Institute is back to the business of advancing economic security and community prosperity after celebrating the holidays with our loved ones. Here are some stories on dangerous medical testing, shoring up the US Postal Service, subprime lending and the foreclosure crisis, the (surprisingly) long struggle to cap payday loan rates, and more that sparked the interest of our staff while we were out:
Lack of credit availability is a key concern for the housing market recovery. As we discussed in our latest report, lenders are tightening standards as foreclosures and other recession-related negative credit events are taking a hit on many borrowers’ credit scores. For example, the Federal Housing Administration recently changed their policy so that they will only insure loans to borrowers with a credit score of 580 or higher for their standard lending program. However, reports have shown that some FHA-approved lenders are requiring even higher standards for FHA loans. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, on whose board our president Dory Rand sits, is taking issue with that practice. NCRC recently filed fair housing complaints with federal regulators alleging that many top FHA lenders have underwriting policies that disparately restrict people of color from access to credit.
Happy holidays, loyal Woodstock readers. As the new year approaches, we decided to try something new with our blog and introduce a feature showcasing the best of the Internet through the eyes of our talented staffers. Every week, our staff will highlight articles that have caught their attention on issues related—or not—to economic security and community prosperity. We hope you get to know us a little better and discover something new in the meantime. Below is the first installment—a shortened one, since some of our crew is on vacation:
On a cold Monday morning under a persistent snowfall, strains of holiday carols could be heard outside of a Chicago payday loan store. These were not your usual carols celebrating sleigh rides, mistletoe, and peace on Earth; indeed, these carols had a less cheery message.
As the end of the year approaches, several thinkers around the Web are reflecting on the meaning of an event that deeply impacted the Chicago region and beyond: the closure of ShoreBank and its rebirth under a new management team as Urban Partnership Bank. We released a statement after ShoreBank’s closure commending the bank for playing a crucial role in supporting affordable housing in Chicago and expressing our hopes that Urban Partnership will carry on that legacy. Here’s what others are saying:
Credit-default swaps. Derivatives. Collateralized debt obligations. Mortgage-backed securities. How many people on the street do you think could accurately define these terms? These financial “innovations” play a critical part in the story of the financial crisis, but average Joes—even above-average Joes—struggle to understand the role these instruments played. At our screening and discussion last week of “Plunder: The Crime of our Time,” journalist Danny Schechter proposed a framework for discussing the financial crisis that relies less on financial wonkery and more on a moral narrative.