Protests, Questions Mark Start of MBA Annual Conference
As key members of the mortgage finance industry gather in San Francisco for the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual conference, the only clarity that seems to exist is that nobody really knows what to expect next. And -- unlike previous year's show -- very few are left standing in the industry, as well. Officials at the MBA told HW that 2,500 registered for the show, but a walk of the exhibit hall floor on early Monday afternoon seems to suggest far fewer in number actually showed up. That may have had something to do with the first protest the mortgage group has ever had to contend with. A boisterous and noisy crowd of roughly 100 protesters picketed in front of the city's Moscone Center West on Sunday, where the conference is being held. Protesters carried signs like "Grand Theft Bailout" and "Banks Get Rich, We Get Evicted" -- and regularly made obscene gestures towards anyone passing by deemed to be part of the conference. The activist group ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) organized the protest, which -- oddly enough -- had little to do with either war or racism, and more to do with the state of the nation's economy. "Jail bankers! Let them rot!" echoed throughout the streets as protest leaders on a megaphone continually railed against the nation's financial crisis; and the commotion clearly left at least some attendees rattled an unwilling to attend the actual show. We spoke with more than a few exhibitors who said they were escorted into the building by security via a side entrance, and who felt that the protest would hurt attendance at the show. The protesters carried signs claiming that "Housing is a Right" and argued for a stop to all evictions, as well. "We say housing is a right, and there should be government intervention on this, to match up those people who are losing their homes, with all those houses that are available," Bill Hackwell, and ANSWER spokesman, told KCBS 740AM, a local radio station. Most attendees felt the protests were misguided. "Many of the people here now are trying to find answers, find solutions, and are working hard to keep people in their homes," said one attendee, who asked not to be named. "There's no reasoning with a mob, but you almost want to ask what the world would look like without a mortgage." The mood at this year's show is certainly more dour than in years' past, where guarded optimism seemed to rule most outlooks among attendees. This year, most are coming to the show wondering if the industry they work in will ever be able to recover outside of government intervention, and looking for answers to questions about the industry's future. A breakfast meeting Monday morning was interrupted by a protester that jumped up on the stage and started arguing for a national foreclosure moratorium, before being removed by security personnel. Editor's note: HW will be at the MBA National for the next two days, offering color and commentary on the events and sessions.