Casey, stumping here, calls for easier low-end mortgages

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (left) takes a tour in Kensington with Jamie Moffett, who had pressed the mortgage issue.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (left) takes a tour in Kensington with Jamie Moffett, who had pressed the mortgage issue. (TOM INFIELD / Staff)
Posted: October 07, 2012

The sweepers arrived first.

A half-hour before U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) was to hold a news conference and take a walk in Kensington on Friday, volunteers were picking up flying papers and flattened cans from the 900 block of East Westmoreland Street, two streets from the El.

TV trucks began to pack the curb, and then came Casey, in a blue, open-collar shirt and with a gaggle of aides. The 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate was again officially in session.

On the sidewalk in front of a refurbished rowhouse, with orange mums and zinnias in a flower box, Casey called on the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make it easier for buyers of low-cost houses (under $75,000) to obtain bank mortgages.

The first-term Democrat, who is being challenged for reelection by Republican Tom Smith, said low rates of home ownership in poor- and working-class areas lead to crime and decay.

"One of the best ways for families to grow and have some economic security is to own a home, if they can qualify," Casey said, squinting in the morning sun. "And if they do qualify, we ought to be able to figure out a way to get them a mortgage."

Casey said he had been alerted to the issue by Jamie Moffett, 36, an independent filmmaker who had moved his studio into the Philadelphia neighborhood.

Moffett told him banks often would not make mortgage loans for small amounts. Moffett said he had found this out himself when he tried to get financing to redo a nearby house, the one with the mums and zinnias.

"There's not enough money in it" for the lenders, he said.

Casey said his staff had found this was true. He released a letter he sent Friday to the head of the consumer protection bureau asking him to consider limiting points and fees on small loans.

He acknowledged, however, that this would require some finesse by the regulators. Too-stringent fee requirements could make lenders even more reluctant to issue loans, he said.

"It is crucial that the final rule strike a balance that will ensure the availability of these loans without creating an undue burden on borrowers," the letter said.

Casey said 48 percent of homes sold in Philadelphia in 2009 went for less than $60,000. So do many homes in rural areas, he said.

The consumer bureau was established in 2010 as part of a package of banking and Wall Street changes pushed by President Obama and Democrats in Congress.

Jim Conroy, spokesman for Smith, said less regulation, not more, is needed to stir economic growth.

"Tom Smith would ease oppressive regulations on small and community banks, supported by Bob Casey, that have discouraged lending and devastated the housing market," Conroy said.

Casey, on his tour, walked through the house that Moffett had rehabbed and now plans to resell to a community resident.

The senator shook hands with Michelle and Minkah Baraka, the buyers-to-be who hope to get a mortgage loan.

"We're waiting on that right now," Michelle Baraka said.


Contact Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @tinfield.

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