The blogosphere seems to think the Occupy Movement, which drew attention last fall for protesting against Wall Streeters, should set up shop in front of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the idea has never really made much progress.
The movement budged slightly recently when about 150 protesters — including a pack of Occupy L.A. members — beat drums, carried signs and chanted their discontent in front of Freddie Mac’s West Coast office in Los Angeles. The protest was sparked by the NPR article that accused Freddie Mac of betting against homeowners by investing millions into mortgage securities that benefited when homeowners weren’t able to refinance.
The Occupy movement dipped its toes in the housing market before. On several occasions protestors clogged city streets and occupied foreclosed homes and even saved a veteran’s Atlanta home from foreclosure.
But its unending anger with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae is misplaced. Or even worse, it is completely misled. Maybe we are seeing a shortage of solutions.
As HousingWire editor Jacob Gaffney pointed out in a blog response to NPR, the accusations that Freddie Mac did something wrong was misleading and unoriginal. Freddie Mac was just doing what it was created to do.
“Who in their right mind would try to counter NPR and ProPublica articles that clearly depict the evil mortgage market behemoth undercutting homeownership initiatives and doing the unthinkable: Trying to earn money for bond investors?” he asks, pointing out that the same thing is going on at Ginnie Mae and Fannie Mae, and almost anywhere a home is bought, sold and financed.
So, if Freddie Mac was simply doing what it was created to do, what was the point of the protest?
Certainly housing is a major drag on the economy, and certainly protesters have the right mindset in focusing on housing, but are they focusing on the right place?
While subprime loans were a huge part of the mortgage meltdown, a majority of those bad loans came from the private mortgage industry. That means Fannie and Freddie probably aren't the main reason for the protesters' anger — though they continue to believe it is.
And even if it were, what good would standing in front of these behemoths with a sign and a bullhorn do? As The New York Times article pointed out this weekend, one private citizen armed with reams of reseach presented compelling evidence in 2003 — much more compelling than any sign — of a series of improprieties by Fannie Mae. The mortgage giant didn’t respond until three years later, and even then only wrote a quiet report agreeing with some of his findings.
The government-sponsored enterprises appear complaint-proof and considering they are just one facet of the current economic turmoil, wouldn’t the Occupy movement be better off redirecting their protest to the private sector?
Or at the very least, why aren’t they hitting the beast where it counts? With these protestors increasingly being forcibly removed from areas of protest, and with months of clamoring for change amounting to little actual progress, maybe it is time they rethink their strategy — at least for the housing market — altogether.
The leading complaint against Occupy is that its message is fluid and too broad, but for housing, that isn’t the case.
With the vast majority of the housing market operating on the Web, maybe taking their dissent online and off the street is the most direct route to wage a serious campaign — against the private sector or otherwise.
The Internet is rapidly becoming the voice of the people and is drastically more relevant to this issue. The housing market doesn’t happen in a building, it happens everywhere. It’s time for Occupy to rethink their message, yes, but it is also time for them to rethink their mode.