The summer months are most precious: The thickness of the air, held nearer to earth with weight of leaves and summer blossoms. The sweetness of peaches, the stickiness of strawberries, an ice cream cone and a moonlight swim. The longest days that nudge into night with voices hushed. Secrets told.

July is a woman with ample thighs, buttons strained, barefoot and hair uncombed. She is ageless but wise, forgiving and reckless.

She throws caution to wind, makes no apologies, speaks candidly and freely. Demands the same of others.

Mother’s Adventure

My mother and I argued about the selection of her grave. Initially we started arguing about the grave itself; this completely rational, highly educated woman said she didn’t want a cremation because she had a fear of burning. Despite the rebuttal that “You’re dead and can’t feel a thing!” she was adament about her choice of her grave site.

And it had to be in the cemetary on Old Pomerene Road, a scappy bit of land through the trailer parks, past the barking pit bulls and assorted other stray animals, the passing cars kick up a dust that clogs the eyes and chokes the throat. There’s a rusty unlocked gate that divides the dead from the undead and single wides.

But, I argued. We argued alot, my mom and I. About wearing black before turning 21, about keeping my hair out of my eyes, about the late hour I was returning home, about the boys that lurked outside the home at night. But the cemetary is so far away from town, Mom, it will be difficult to visit.

But my mom insisted that she would be buried next to her mom, my grandmother. A noble gesture indeed because like me and my mother, my grandmother and mom argued alot. They argued about the proper way to iron a white shirt, to prepare a lemon merinque pie, how to stay married to a alcoholic husband. Or not.

My mother won the arguement and she is buried in this lonely, dusty cemetary an hour’s drive from town. It’s not a perpetual care place, you know, said my Aunt Jo. It means you are responsible for the maintenance and flowers. It was with my Aunt Jo’s assistance that my grandmother and mom rest in the cemetary on Old Pomerene Road. The nearby ward of the LDS church is just down the road and the majority of the residents of the cemetary are Mormon family settlers of Pomerene and St. David.

There my mother and grandmother rest, side by side, no doubt arguing about a lot of nothing and alot about something.

My three sisters and I will visit the graves today, on another Mother’s Day. We will argue about the condition of the world, the roads, the difficulty removing the weeds that grow between the rocks, plastic vs. real flowers and especially about the sadness of a Mother’s Day at a cemetary on Old Pomerene Road.

We argue about the number of remaining lots next to my mother’s grave. Sure that they are a requirement the non-LDS be a certain number of feet from the real LDS – my sister says it’s a non smoking area, another says it’s the adult section.

I’m convinced my mother has won the argument.

There is No Bottom Unless We Create One

I repeat myself alot. Today will be no exception.

There will be no bottom to the housing crisis unless we create either a mandatory principal reduction, modification and replacement program.

The lending institutions have clearly demonstrated that they are in no mood to loosen the credit standards. Worse yet, adding even more insult to the American taxpayers and homeowners, current, future and past, they are unloading their real estate holding in fire sale fashion.

This is the thanks we get for bailing them out?

Note to self – “Neither a lender nor borrower be…”

This makes me wonder if they are conspiring to purchase the assets back with another Great Bail Out at fifty cents on the dollar.

Sorry, I digress. My radical plan is this. Regulate the safety and energy standards of America housing inventory. Assign a carbon footprint to homes and create a a consumer-driven shelf life to the current inventory. I can’t drive my car until I passed the state emissions quality test; my house should be required to pass the newly enacted energy efficiency standard. Why not? Everything in the consumer landscape is driven by obsolescence- why not houses?

As I hear the increasingly loud cries of preservationists, I say don’t panic – we already have federal standards for protection!

And for those that protest their individual property rights must be upheld, I say “Really? We’ve already lost those rights when our mortgages were sold and bundled into unregulated securities. We lost those rights when our state attorneys cannot prove who has the right to foreclose on our property.”

Here it is: “Chase, Bank of America, GMAC, etc. cannot sell a foreclosed home until the home meets federal and state standards for energy efficiency.”

State and federally mandated energy efficiency standards will compel the lenders to reconsider principal reductions and modifications.

The Reasons are Still the Same

The late comic George Carlin said it best – “A House is a Place to put Your Stuff”:

It’s possible to rent a place to store your stuff, it’s even possible to rent and own separate places to put your stuff; however, it’s better to own a larger place to put all of your stuff. It’s possible to buy a home with a garage roomy enough for a boat, a car and a motorcycle. I can build a house with individual rooms for my collections, my treasures, my stuff.

To be surrounded by our stuff makes us feel good. We feel nurtured and nurturing at the same time.

We feel better when we create rooms to showcase our stuff,  color coordinate and create themes, regional decorations, a theme, an homage to favorite football or baseball team, a character in a movie, maybe a memory of a favorite vacation spot. We love waking up in the morning, opening a drawer that provides shelter to the butter knife, or a cupboard to display the favorite coffee cup, sitting down at a comfortable kitchen table. It’s about getting dressed, going out to face the world knowing your stuff is safe and protected.

It’s why we buy. Despite it all, the headlines, the warnings, homeownership will still prevail. We owe it to our stuff.

In Defense of My State and Defending the Vernacular

Arizona weather is like our food,  a combination plate of crisp and crunchy yet kinda greasy, cheesy and oozing, savory and delicious, then in the middle of swallow,  a burn that develops in mid sentence. The slow burn that tears the eyes and roasts the stomach and makes you wonder if you can still breathe. Arizona is a bite of the jalapeno, a sudden urgency that a glass of water that cannot be found or filled soon enough.  Arizona is a nap after eating a huge meal in the middle of the day seated in a dimly lit restaurant booth with vinyl seats that stick to your bare legs.  Arizona is a salsa  that  hurts so bad and tastes so good you are going  to eat it again tomorrow.

That’s my Arizona. She is the marriage of  two cultures that both soothe and spark, lull and excite.

We survive and flourish in the harshness of our environment  because of  the lively diversity of our population. We share our border, the “line” as was once was called, openly and freely because both our economies and our heritage  determined it to be so.  Our Arizona pioneer  families were born on both sides of a line that is flexible, accommodating, generous and forever mindful of the value of trade and respect.  My Arizona is respectful not to offend a cousin, brother,tio, abuela, empresario. We blend, we share, we marry and we agree because the border is just a line.

The House should be Totaled

A recent listing of a house owned by Fannie Mae was placed in our MLS. The agent carefully added the minimum three photographs. The first photograph showed an obvious water stain covering a large portion of the living room ceiling, the second clearly depicted the lacy black mold covering the tile floor of a shower pan. The third photograph was taken of the front of the home; a 1950′s single story brick house, single pane windows, antiquated evaporative cooler, no insulation in the walls or ceiling.

 The listing price – $35,000.The lien holder and servicer of the home owner’s loan ,Chase Bank,  had previously sold the loan to Fannie Mae and prior to foreclosure, had ignored the homeowner’s request to modify the loan; Chase ultimately determined that a foreclosure proceeding would net them more than principal reduction or a modification.

 The owner of the property was unable to pay the loan, sell the home, fix the home and gave it back to us, Fannie Mae.

And the house went back to Fannie Mae to resell, to repeat the process all over.

The listing price of this home is $35,000. The condition of the home prevents it from an FHA, VA or conventional loan. Only a all-cash buyer can purchase this home.

If this house was an automobile, it would have been tagged and towed to a junk yard. If it were a sofa, it would have been dragged to the curb for garbage pickup. But because it is real estate and our property laws are clear, the home remains a blight and burden to all of us.

Don’t interpet my words, I am an advocate for affordable housing. But the maintenance and energy efficiency should be factored into the true cost of a home purchase. If the energy efficiency of a home is more expensive than the initial cost of the home, the home will remain a burden to our environment.

Furthermore, if we cannot compel the servicers, the lenders and Fannie Mae to modify the loans, make credit available for new homeowners, there is no bottom to the real estate death spiral. It was become a game of domino’s.

Moral Hazard, the State of Florida and the Forsaken Homeowner

March 23 (Bloomberg) — A plan to resolve a nationwide probe of foreclosure and mortgage-servicing practices is being opposed by four more Republican state attorneys general, who say the terms of a deal may foster a “moral hazard.”

In a letter to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat who has taken the lead in the investigation, the officials objected to new documentation requirements and principal reductions outlined in the proposed settlement submitted to the country’s top mortgage-servicing companies this month. Attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli of Virginia, Greg Abbott of Texas, Pam Bondi of Florida and Alan Wilson of South Carolina, sent to Miller a letter with their objections on March 16. A key objection is the “moral hazard” created by the proposal to reduce homebuyers’ loans because it “rewards those who simply choose not to pay their mortgage,” the attorneys general said. 

Federal agencies and state attorneys general on March 3 delivered a 27-page settlement proposal that would set standards for how mortgage servicers conduct foreclosures and service loans. Those banks include Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The terms would force procedural changes on the servicers, including banning companies from initiating foreclosure proceedings while a loan modification is pending, providing borrowers with a single point of contact, and informing borrowers of denied modifications in writing.

Loan Modifications

Borrowers who are enrolled in a trial loan modification under a federal program and make three loan payments on time would get a permanent loan modification under the proposal. The document would give attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau responsibility to police servicers’ compliance with any settlement.

The terms would impose documentation requirements on banks that go beyond Virginia law, Cuccinelli said in an interview on March 11. A “major problem” is that government-owned mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t involved in the negotiations, he said.

U.S. House Republicans also criticized the proposal.

It’s confirmed . Florida has been for sale since the 2001 election.

If I were a homeowner in Florida,  I’d be pretty damn pissed at Pam Bondi for turning a deaf ear to the cries of her constituents whom have pleaded with their loan servicers, homeowners who have been told their loan modification was being reviewed, only to learn their home had been foreclosed. Homeowners who have tried to reach a compromise with a short sale only to have a buyer’s offer rejected, homeowners victims of loan modification scam artists, homeowners flooding the non profit housing agencies seeking to save their home. Shame on you, Pam Bondi. In addition to an elected official, you are also a resident of the state of Florida which, if somehow you’ve missed this – is literally, ground zero in the housing  and foreclosure crisis.

Shame on you, Pam Bondi. You and your fellow Attorney Generals have the opportunity to review countless reports that underscore the consumer protection laws that failed to protect current homeowners . Here’s one from the 2007 speech by Sheila Bair of  the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:

Or how about this one, Pam Bondi. Sheila Bair gave this speech more recently,  January 19th of this year, detailing the most persistent adversary has been inertia in the servicing and foreclosure practices applied to problem loans.

Shame on you, Pam Bondi. You have the opportunity to be a true advocate for the residents of Florida, you have the unique advantage to lead the Attorney Generals across party lines and use your power to assist those that elected you. Instead, you  debased those you are paid to defend and protect, those too weakened to stand up for themselves.

Shame on you, Pam Bondi.

My Heart Hurts Today

This a is typical Saturday morning chore list: Pickup toothpaste at Walgreens.Drop off dry cleaning. Take boxes of holiday returns to the shipping store.  There is never a need to write down the inevitable-a triple tall non fat cappuccino from Starbucks across the street.

Yesterday morning, I was stalling, logged into Facebook and Twitter checking up on friends. I found a posting that requiired an immediate response - An  old friend to be congratulated on her new job. I texted “2011 is going to be a great year!”

A recent tweet from Gabrielle Giffords made no mention of the location her Congress on the Corner, perhaps if she had, I’d hurried to meet her outside Safeway.  The Safeway next door to Walgreen’s, the dry cleaner and the shipping store. Across the street from the Starbuck’s.

The speed of the tweets, “Ina and Oracle closed, emergency vehicles, helicopters at intersection” and seemingly in a matter of an hour, the increasing number of fatalities broadcast by radio, streaming video and Twitter. Despite the inaccuracy of  some reports, the drama unfolding a mere two traffic lights away seemed incredulous.

However, the phrase “It couldn’t happen here” sticks in my throat.

Growing up in Tucson, I remember our letters to the editor in the newspapers were always critical of our public servants and elected officials, accusatory of reckless spending and blatant ineptitude.  In recent times, the exchange of words are not limited to the newspaper and expanded to online blogs and signs at street corners and they have accelerated in their animosity.

My friends and I have recently discussed how the anti immigration issue, our SB 1070 had affected our daily lives and a loss of business. Specifically, how Gov. Jan Brewer had harmed the critical relationship between Mexico and Arizona with her incendiary remarks. We had all seen the political yard signs criticizing the Gifford’s vote on universal health care. We’ve also discussed how society, particularly in a struggling economy, will turn against the weaker population as a scapegoat for their troubles.

But Arizona has always had politicians and people that are, let’s just say, a bit radical. It’s our nature. We are affected by the prickly cacti, the searing heat and perhaps the western “hang ‘em high” lore that in a town that just won’t die. All that swagger seems a bit detestable now.

Jared Loughner may not have been my son, but my town created him. He took the message that has been repeated through our Southern Arizona heritage, loaded the anger into a handgun and destroyed the lives of countless people. Deny this very painful reality, but he took the fighting words from Sarah Palin, Jesse Kelly and others and armed himself with a legal hand gun. Deny this as well, but he couldn’t have killed and hurt 20 people unless his right to bear arms trumps the right to safety. Even if he is a bit crazy.

As the news swirls constantly around me, heartbreaking stories of a nine year old girl, a distinguished jurist and churchgoing retirees, a critically injured congresswomen clinging to life, my heart hurts.

New Year Resolutions for Everyone Else

I am a constant list maker- come from a long line of them. I already have several New Year Resolutions, each in categories according to need. And I feel that there are many of you without direction.

So here’s my list for everyone else who hasn’t made a list and should:

1-Shoe Designers-  Are you trying to make us look ridiculous?. Resolve to be kinder to women’s feet.

2-Major Banks and Investment firms-We get it – You dominate us.  Except we can all stop making our mortgage and credit card payments. Resolve to accept a lesser return on your investments. Just as we have.

3-Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell-Resolve to SHUT UP!

4-Chothing Manufacturing-Label items only in clearly recognisable color names. No more Fig, Stone or Twilight. Resolve to use Crayola box as guide.

5-My Husband-Take a chance.

6-My friends-Call me when you are down and need a friend. It’s the greatest gift you can give. Resolve to be truthful.

7-Ben and Jerry’s-Locate a non dairy substitute that doesn’t create bilious side effects.

8-Zsa Zsa’s husband-Let her go.

9-AMC-Keep it up!

10-George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Harrison Ford- Call me!

It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

I’ve thought a lot about this Lyndon Johnson quote of J. Edgar Hoover  this week.  I’ve found many parallels between Hoover’s zealous patriotism and the mortgage/real estate industry’s opinion of the  nation’s foreclosure and strategic default homeowners.

Apparently, all the mortgage originators, real estate agents and lenders responsible for the liar loans are no longer in business and all who remain are deeply pious and chaste in virtue.  Our sanctamonious leaders have applauded the mortgage servicers in their efforts to round up all the dead beats, tar and feather ‘em, then run ‘ em out of their homes.

What will happen to the already precarious value of  underwater homes when the cleansing is complete? Will the remaining homeowner feel justified or sullied for the sake of righteousness?

Which seems to be pretty shortsighted considering the cyclical nature of the real estate. Seems that Lyndon Johnson figured out that the damage could be minimized by bringing J. Edgar into the inner circle, why can’t the real estate  industry see the benefit?

Instead of criticizing and dismissing the trauma a troubled homeowner faces as a flaw in financial judgement, we should unify the common goal and restore the faith of current and future clients. We need to recognize that a financial hardship exists in BOTH the underemployed and the underwater and loosen underwriting standards to allow refinancing and loan modification.

Twitter: bethavis

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