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FDL Writer’s Foundation: For More Than Just Screaming to Your Neighbor

In the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of the best blog posts of the year selected by the bloggers themselves, I picked my first installment of the Portrait of HAMP Failure series. And I think it is a perfect example of why something like FDL is a crucial part of the political conversation in this country, and why moves to expand that reach, like the FDL Writer’s Foundation, are so important.

How that story came about is that I had been doing some preliminary reporting on HAMP, and how the data was coming in far below government estimates. There were scattered reports of borrowers getting screwed while using the loan modification program, but nothing concrete. Around this time, a friend of mine told me that he was having trouble with his mortgage, and how he might lose his home even though he never missed a payment and did everything his loan servicer asked of him.

I just found this odd. How could someone who never missed a payment get in such trouble? It turned out that my friend was a victim of an attempt at a servicer-driven default. He was current on his payment but struggling, and sought a modification. And the servicer told him to intentionally miss a payment in order to qualify for HAMP. That’s just an outright lie, and it allowed the servicer to tack on fees and increase unpaid principal balance. Then they engaged in all the other dirty dealing we’ve come to see as depressingly normal – misplacing documents, extending out the trial modification time, eventually rejecting the modification without giving a reason and then demanding immediate payment of the difference between the trial modification and the original payment, plus all applicable fees, or risk foreclosure.

Now, in a world before the Internet, I would just stew over this, maybe yell about it to a few friends, the mailman, or anyone else who would listen. Who knows, I could have gotten my back up and written a letter to the editor, which some newspaper would maybe have the opportunity to publish. But I had a blog, and a platform from which to tell my friend’s story. And at the end of it, I posted a little note, asking others who experienced problems with HAMP to contact me and come forward.

The response was overwhelming. I got dozens of emails and calls. And practicallly all of them fell into this same basic pattern. It was like unlocking a code. Something was going horribly wrong with this loan modification program, something that was under the surface but never presented in a formal way.

I was proud to be able to give voice to these homeowners who fell prey to unscrupulous loan servicers and a Treasury Department program without controls. In some small way, this put pressure to tweak and improve the program. It provided an archive, a living history of how HAMP operated, as virtually a predatory lending scheme for the banks. It received notoriety from several corners, including from Paul Krugman.

This wouldn’t really have been possible without a platform and community like FDL. And now, there’s the Writer’s Foundation, which will enable writers to continue this work. The predictable statement is that journalism is under stress. But journalism itself is actually thriving. When given just some resources, citizen journalists can call attention to undiscovered issues and make a difference. The FDL Writer’s Foundation can support that work, and give new opportunities for writers to promote and actually enact real progressive change.

I’d be honored if you would consider making a donation today.

And anyway, it beats just screaming to your neighbor when you see an injustice.

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David Dayen

David Dayen