Woodstock’s staff and board members gathered together with some of our colleagues last week at a lovely art gallery in Wicker Park to reflect on the work that we've done and look forward to future partnerships. If you couldn't join us, here’s a selection of Woodstock’s greatest hits of 2012.
We couldn't do anything that we do by ourselves—behind every success is cooperation between our nonprofit allies, forward-thinking policymakers and regulators, generous funders and donors, and private-sector leaders willing to take chances that help communities. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to 2012’s advances for consumers, particularly those in low-wealth communities and communities of color.
1. Informing the CFPB: In 2012, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) became an independent, consumer-focused federal agency with wide-ranging authority, great leadership and diverse, talented staff. We participated in numerous hearings, meetings and convenings and submitted comments on many proposed rules, including those relating to overdraft protection, prepaid cards, and mortgage servicing. I was appointed to the inaugural CFPB Consumer Advisory Board and attended its first meeting in St. Louis.
2. Revitalizing vacant homes: Based in part on our 2011 report Left Behind: Troubled Foreclosed Properties and Servicer Accountability in Chicago and our staff testimony at hearings, the City of Chicago and Cook County Board moved forward with enforcement of new vacant property ordinances, which have increased revenue and code compliance in Chicago, and created a new Task Force to explore creation of a Cook County Land Bank. And the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that generates revenue for neighborhood stabilization and housing counseling as well as creates a fast-track foreclosure process for abandoned homes. In addition, Woodstock continued to convene the Regional Home Ownership Preservation Initiative (RHOPI), which is collaboratively addressing the issues of distressed properties and the need for affordable housing throughout Cook County.
3. Negative Equity: Woodstock published Struggling to Stay Afloat, which documented the extent of negative equity in this region and the disproportionate impact on communities of color. We advocated strongly for principal reduction loan modifications and opposed the policies of Federal Housing Finance Authority on this topic and on proposed higher guarantee fees in states with strong consumer protections for homeowners.
4. Mortgage Lending and Foreclosures: Our collaborative report, Paying More for the American Dream, documented the over-reliance on FHA mortgage loans and lack of access to prime loans in communities of color in seven cities. We continued to publish twice yearly reports and analysis on the extent of and trends in foreclosures in the Chicago six county area and provided extensive technical assistance to community-based organizations and policymakers.
5. Payday lending: Wells Fargo’s Community Reinvestment Act exam was an opportunity for Woodstock and our allies to let regulators know that they should downgrade Wells’ CRA rating because of the harm that their high-cost payday product inflicts on communities.
6. International: We collaborated on a research report last year for a nonprofit group in the United Kingdom about the pros and cons of American-style financial data collection policies. In September, staff presented on this report in Birmingham, England.
7. National impact: We were joined by the largest state contingent for the annual NCRC conference, fielded numerous teams to make Capitol Hill visits in April, and presented on several conference panels. I chaired the NCRC Board’s Mortgage Finance Community Collaborative meetings around the country and presented the consumer advocate’s perspective at the Consumer Bankers Association conference.
8. Retirement Insecurity: Our report Coming Up Short documented the extent of retirement insecurity among private-sector workers in Illinois who lack access to employment-based retirement savings plans. We testified at a hearing before the Illinois General Assembly this past spring and will be working with the Illinois Asset Building Group to advance a bill next session that would expand retirement savings options to most of those workers currently left out of the system.
9. Administration: Woodstock’s talented administrative staff made major headway in clearing out old files, reorganizing our library, digitizing our reports since 1977, updating our database, staffing events, keeping our books, and finishing in the black with clean audits this year and for the last four years.
10. 40th Anniversary Celebration in 2013: With help from Woodstock’s active and engaged Board of Directors and officers, we launched plans to celebrate 40 years of Woodstock success in October of 2013 by hosting the Babies, Boomers & Beyond symposium and bash at the Sheraton Chicago. You’ll be hearing much more about that next year, so mark your calendars for Oct. 2 and 3.
11. New Staff: We welcomed Courtney Eccles as our new Policy Director in November and she is already busy at work in Springfield and with our allies.
Looking forward, we believe we have real opportunities to make positive changes at the federal level. The Obama Administration will protect the Dodd-Frank Act and the CFPB and the OCC and FDIC have ushered in new, Senate-confirmed leaders who, we believe, will be more consumer-friendly. In addition, the incoming members of the US House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees are expected to be strong consumer advocates. At the state level, we have strong allies and some smart champions in the Illinois General Assembly, the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office, and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation who can help us make progress with our policy agenda and protect past gains. At the local and regional level, we have great partners and powerful allies in government who are helping us to advance a progressive agenda for homeowners and renters, consumers, small businesses, and communities.
We’re keeping an eye on emerging issues that affect financial security, such as high student loan burdens, new forms of high-cost short-term credit, and the health of small businesses. What’s on your agenda for 2013?