KWMU Programs–Updated

May 5, 2009

Over the next few weeks KWMU will air four documentaries from American RadioWorks.  The programs will help explain the economic crisis we’re facing.

 Foreclosure City – Airs Tuesday, May 5th, 8:00 – 9:00pm

American RadioWorks looks at the roots and the fall-out of the Las Vegas foreclosure crisis, and tells the stories of residents trying to build new lives, now that their old dreams have failed.  Hosted by Steven Smith.

 A Better Life: Creating the American Dream – Airs Tuesday, May 12th, 8:00 – 9:00pm

As part of American Public Media’s “Next American Dream” project, this program chronicles the evolution of the American Dream since the Great Depression. Hosted by Steven Smith.

Hard Times in Middletown – Airs Tuesday, May 26th, 8:00 – 9:00pm

In 1929 the Rockefeller Institute published an intimate look at church, school, family and work in Muncie, IN. This documentary helps us understand how the economic crisis is affecting the people who defined the American middle class.  Hosted by Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace.

Bridge to Somewhere – Airs Tuesday, June 2nd, 8:00 – 9:00pm

With the country’s economy in a tailspin, many Americans are calling for a new New Deal. This hour looks at whether repairing roads and expanding broadband Internet can help Americans back toward prosperity.  Hosted by Steven Smith.

 For more information, visit KWMU’s site dedicated to Facing the Mortgage Crisis, and tune in to KWMU – 90.7 FM.


The American Dream

March 26, 2009

President and CEO of Beyond Housing – Chris Krehmeyer – talks about what the American Dream means to him, and how he has seen it change ove the course of his life. Chris has a regular blog, which you can find by clicking here  and regularly posts to his twitter account

I was born on the last of 1961 and just about everyone in my generation and the generation before me had a notion that the American Dream is rooted in buying your own single family home. That was our aspiration. It was a symbol of our success and then the springboard for our children’s success. Like me most working class people look to our homes to be our nesteggs to help build our wealth. We have some pension put away – a lot less now than a year ago but our homes were viewed as our “ticket” to both retirement and helping our childen and grandchildren.

The shift that that has taken place in the last 10-15 years where technology allows us to be incredibly mobile and have the world in our pockets leads me to believe that the idea of the American Dream is beginning to change and will indeed change significantly in years to come. My 20 year old Nick has told me that as of now he has no interest in owning a single family home like the one he grew up in – “maybe a condo” he says. I told him of my recent article in the paper and he informed me politely that he does not know anyone who reads a newspaper. Who am I to pass judgment on this next generation – I do want to pose a question;

What will be the next American Dream? Please let me know what you think.

The Financial Crisis Explained, Part 2

March 13, 2009

A few days ago we posted the first of four clips from our town-hall call-in program that aired in January. In this second segment, Ruth Ezell talks to the panelists about credit cards—the dangers of using credit cards like cash, and the importance of understanding the terms of your credit cards. This clip also features information on neighborhood stabilization efforts and the proverbial American Dream.

The American Dream

March 12, 2009

In January 2009, KETC/Channel 9 gave students from St. Louis University Flip cameras to interview their friends and peers about their visions of the American Dream.  The videos are fantastic, and what I like most is the optimism of the students.  They realize that times are tough right now and that the economy isn’t doing well, but instead of viewing this as a roadblock, many students think the economy is just an obstacle–something that, with hard work, can be overcome.

To check out the videos, visit the American Dream section of our website where we’ve featured a few of the videos, including the Living St. Louis segment by producer Patrick Murphy.  To see all of the videos, check out our YouTube channel.

New From the St. Louis Beacon – Anatomy of a foreclosure (part 2)

September 25, 2008
September 25, 2008

Anatomy of a foreclosure:  how an adjustable rate mortgage led to crisis (Part 2)      
By Mary Delach Leonard, St. Louis Beacon staff

Part 2 of 3
The collapse of some of the nation’s oldest financial institutions started on Main Street America with hundreds and thousands of homeowners such as 56-year-old Maureen McKenzie of Kirkwood who in May lost to foreclosure the small ranch house that had been in her family since it was built after World War II. How could this happen? The answer is … complicated. The Beacon will unravel the story of how Maureen McKenzie of Kirkwood, Mo., lost her 900 square feet of the American Dream. Read part 1.

Maureen McKenzie’s father could tell she was nervous as he watched KETC-Channel 9’s “Facing the Mortgage Crisis” program that aired on July 15, but he was impressed that his daughter had stepped forward and disclosed her personal experience with foreclosure.
“I don’t think I could have done that,” William Burns said.

Burns, 83, said he did what he could to help his daughter save the home he bought in 1953 on Barry Court in Kirkwood. At one point, he gave her $6,000 — borrowed against her inheritance, he said — so she could catch up on her mortgage payments.

“It’s sad because it was Maureen’s dream to own the family home we had for some 50 years,” he said. “I was sad, too.”

Read the rest of this entry »

New From the St. Louis Beacon – Anatomy of a foreclosure (part 1)

September 24, 2008
September 24, 2008

Anatomy of a foreclosure: For Sale – A house full of memories (Part 1)     
By Mary Delach Leonard, St. Louis Beacon staff    

Part 1 of 3
The collapse of some of the nation’s oldest financial institutions started on Main Street America with hundreds and thousands of homeowners such as 56-year-old Maureen McKenzie of Kirkwood who in May lost to foreclosure the small ranch house that had been in her family since it was built after World War II. How could this happen? The answer is … complicated. Over the next three days,
the Beacon will unravel the story of how Maureen McKenzie of Kirkwood, Mo., lost her 900 square feet of the American Dream.

Two months after she lost her 900-square-foot, three-bedroom ranch to foreclosure, Maureen McKenzie of Kirkwood swallowed her nerves and stood before a live studio audience at KETC-Channel 9 to address a panel of housing counselors:

“I’m Maureen. And I’m from Kirkwood. And I recently lost my house to foreclosure. And my house is still sitting empty, and I am wondering if there’s any help available to try and get my house back.”

McKenzie, 56, was on a self-imposed mission as she spoke those words during the July 15 segment of “Facing The Mortgage Crisis,” which was broadcast live throughout the St. Louis area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Foreclosures: The Problem Is Growing; Seek Help Early

June 23, 2008
June 23, 2008

Originally published by The St. Louis Beacon on Monday, June 23, 2008:

By Mary Delach Leonard, St. Louis Beacon staff

Over the coming weeks, the Beacon, in partnership with KETC/Channel 9, will be reporting on the sticky web of issues surrounding foreclosure – a crisis for nearly 2 million Americans, including thousands in the St. Louis region who have lost their stake in the American Dream.

We have been talking to homeowners, housing counselors and economic and financial experts who are helping us explain the situation in understandable terms and sharing solid suggestions about what can – and should – be done.

For economy-weary Americans, the sobering news is that the crisis is gaining momentum. Social agencies and local governments are bracing for a new wave of foreclosures — tied to resetting mortgage interest rates — that will hit later this year and into 2009.

Just a few weeks ago, the topic shot back into the public forum, thanks to an aging but beloved Hollywood star who has fallen on hard times.

There was Ed McMahon, for gosh sakes, on national TV spilling out his troubles to Larry King — and shining a spotlight, he said, on “the million people who now have foreclosure signs on their homes, or nearby.”

“There’s a lot of people that are hard workers, did everything right, didn’t do anything wrong, and all of a sudden, they’re in this boat. And I speak for all of them, as far as I’m concerned,” said the 85-year-old McMahon, with his wife Pam at his side.

Overnight, an old story was reborn.

And unlike the occasional profile of a newly homeless family forced to live in a car or ironic tales of former donors now collecting handouts from charities, this was about a celebrity that America knows. Generations of a certain age watched McMahon on TV nightly, the affable sidekick on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” who pitched products like Budweiser and the American Family Publishers sweepstakes — the happy guy knocking on people’s doors with balloons and an oversized check for $1 million.

Wow. If foreclosure can happen to a successful American like McMahon, what about the rest of us?

The fact is, the foreclosure crisis is striking daily in neighborhoods across the nation, and the numbers are staggering, even graver than the 1 million figure cited by McMahon.

According to a study released in April by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 1.6 million home mortgage loans were either seriously delinquent or in foreclosure as of December 2007. Pew’s analysis estimates that 1 in 33 current homeowners will face foreclosure in the next two years as a result of risky sub-prime loans made in 2005 and 2006.

Predictions for St. Louis city and county put foreclosures at 8,000 this year — an increase from 7,000 in 2007, according to the St. Louis Alliance for Homeownership Preservation.

Just how bad is it?

Mortgage-foreclosure rates have probably not been this high in the United States since the Great Depression in the early 1930s, according to William Emmons, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

What about me?
So, here is the question: What does a guy like McMahon possibly have in common with all of these people who are losing their homes?

On one level, not much. On another level, more than you might think.

“Well, if you spend more money than you make, you know what happens. And it can happen,” McMahon told Larry King. “You know, a couple of divorces thrown in, a few things like that. And, you know, things happen. You want everything to be perfect, but that combination of the economy, I have a little injury, I have a situation. And it all came together.”

People can be overextended financially at any income level, points out Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, a nonprofit agency that is one of five local nonprofits pooling their staffs to offer counseling for troubled homeowners through the St. Louis Alliance for Homeownership Preservation.

Counselors such as Krehmeyer point out that in today’s credit-driven economy, it is not unusual for Americans to be thousands of dollars in debt. A family illness, unemployment, divorce — any of a number of “situations” as McMahon referred to them — could traditionally push a maxed-out homeowner over the brink.

But the explosion of foreclosures goes far beyond such individual problems and has been linked instead to the meteoric rise of new loan products that appeared after 2000.

These mortgages were labeled as “sub-prime” because of their risk. They were made to borrowers with less-than-stellar credit histories, or the loans featured “creative” financing structures that even credit-healthy borrowers could not afford. The culprits most often fingered: adjustable rate mortgages, balloon mortgages, no-interest mortgages.

To make matters worse, the escape hatch for troubled borrowers — selling their homes at prices higher than they paid — has been sealed shut by declining housing prices, forcing homeowners to either sell at a loss, or simply hand the keys back to their lenders and walk away.

In St. Louis County, the average foreclosed house was built in 1954, has 1,260 square feet, is appraised at $116,000 and located in a moderate-income neighborhood, according to the county planning department. Such homes are, granted, a far cry from McMahon’s 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, five-bathroom, Mediterranean-style mansion with the famous Beverly Hills Zip Code — 90210 — and $6.5 million asking price. McMahon was more than $600,000 behind on his mortgage, defaulting on a $4.8 million loan from Countrywide Financial Corporation.

McMahon put his posh estate up for sale two years ago, but he, too, found no buyers.

What’s to be done?
“Fight for your home.”

That is the message that Krehmeyer and the St. Louis homeownership alliance has for people who are struggling financially and worried about foreclosure.

Be proactive. Contact your lender before you fall so far behind in your payments that nothing can be done. Seek help from a HUD-approved housing counselor who can help renegotiate the terms of your loan with your lender — and be wary of scam artists.

Karen Wallensak, who directs the Catholic Charities Housing Resource Center in St. Louis, said her agency is fielding 150 calls a day from people with questions or who need assistance with their mortgages. Sometimes, little can be done because they simply waited too long to ask for help, or they simply cannot afford their homes. On the other hand, the agency’s 10 housing counselors have their share of successes. They are adept at negotiating resolutions with lenders, a complex and time-consuming process that many homeowners aren’t equipped to handle.

For counselors such as Wallensak, the foreclosure crisis came as no surprise.

“Since 2006, we have been warning that this whole thing was going to fall apart. The signs were there. It was evident that we were headed for a catastrophe, but no one was listening. There was money to be made,” she said.

And unlike a natural disaster, when the trouble started it wasn’t easy to see.

“It’s not like a hurricane,” Krehmeyer said. “It’s a quiet crisis; homes are foreclosed upon one at a time. You wake up one morning, and your neighbor is gone.”

There goes the neighborhood
For people who wonder why they should care about the foreclosure crisis, Mike Duncan, information technology manager for the St. Louis County Planning Department, offers some eye-opening facts about what happens to neighborhoods when bank-owned homes sit vacant:

  • Forty percent of foreclosed homes have property maintenance code violations, an average of 2.2 violations per property.
  • Lengthy periods of property vacancy translate to lack of upkeep and lawn mowing.
  • Homeowners often have to leave in a hurry, dumping their belongings on the curb for the city or county to clean up.
  • Vacant properties attract trash dumping.
  • Neighbors face declining property values.

 Even so, Krehmeyer says, attempts to assist struggling homeowners are sometimes criticized by people who resent the thought of bailing them out. He says it is important not to play the blame game, though there is plenty to go around — from mortgage brokers and lenders who played fast and loose with the rules to borrowers who didn’t think carefully before signing on the bottom line.

“When you come across a car accident, you immediately start pulling people out of the car,” he said. “You don’t stop and ask, ‘Were you speeding?’ “