Yesterday I celebrated my first five years with Woodstock Institute. When I joined Woodstock as president in 2008, the financial crisis was just getting into full swing and the future was quite uncertain.
We knew that deregulation of the financial industry and short-term profit-seeking through toxic loan products had led to the disaster, but we didn’t know how we were going to help people in foreclosure and make our financial system more just and sustainable.
Five years later, we are still dealing with the fallout of the foreclosure and financial crisis in our neighborhoods and in the halls of power. Significant progress has been made, however, in changing our financial system for the better, and I am pleased that Woodstock Institute has played a role in achieving some of those changes through its research, advocacy, coalition work and technical assistance in the areas of fair lending, wealth creation, and financial systems reform. One of the most significant changes was passage of the 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and its creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as an independent agency with a mission of protecting and empowering consumers. We were further vindicated this week when Richard Cordray was confirmed as CFPB director by the full Senate [link to press release], thanks in part to the refusal of IL Senators to filibuster the confirmation vote.
Over the last five years, Woodstock has continued its tradition of producing cutting-edge research on housing, community development, and consumer finance issues. Our research on foreclosures, access to mortgage credit, and vacant properties, for example, has been used by community groups, funders and policymakers to target resources; adopt new ordinances, laws and rules; create a new land bank; and promote and enforce fair lending. Our research on high-cost, high-risk consumer products and advocacy in concert with local and national allies and policymaker champions led to nationwide elimination of tax refund anticipation loans, new state laws protecting consumers and adopting ability to repay standards for payday loans, and new proposed rules to apply traditional safety and soundness standards to high-cost bank payday products. The leaders at federal and state agencies are playing a key role in leveling the playing field, protecting consumers, and holding financial institutions accountable for unfair, deceptive, abusive, and discriminatory products and practices.
New areas that Woodstock expanded into in the last five years include credit scores, bankruptcy, retirement savings, and asset limits. We raised awareness of: the concentration of low credit scores in communities of color; possible steering by bankruptcy attorneys, especially those representing African American women, into less effective bankruptcy solutions; the significant risk that more than half of all private sector workers who have no access to employment-based retirement savings will retire into poverty; and, the counterproductive effects of asset limits in means-tested programs. Woodstock contributed to a victory this year (after over a decade of advocacy) in eliminating asset tests in Illinois.
I have had the privilege of working with an extraordinary group of staff and Board of Directors at Woodstock. Along the way, we have strengthened and expanded our network of friends, allies, funders, researchers, policymakers and community groups. I extend my sincere thanks to all of you for allowing me to do this important, challenging, and rewarding work with you. I look forward to working with you as we move forward and I hope to see you at Woodstock Institute’s 40th Anniversary Research Symposium & Bash on October 2-3, 2013, in Chicago.