Virginia Holwell worked for the State of Illinois for 30 years. She loved her job and, if you’d asked her a year ago, she would have told you that she planned to work for another 10 years. But the Great Recession hit Illinois particularly hard and Virginia was laid off from her job. Virginia had counted on having 10 more years of work to pay off her mortgage and retire with full benefits. Instead, she found herself with a pension that was a third of her former salary and a mortgage that was now more than half of her monthly income.
Photo Source: New York Times
Virginia is the new face of Americans who are struggling to avoid foreclosure. Despite never missing or being late on a single payment, Virginia was recently told by JPMorgan/ Chase that she wasn’t eligible for a modification and she should consider liquidating her home. She is working with IPA to try to save it.
Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, said on January 28, 2011, “The Great Recession is far from over. Millions of Americans are without jobs or much hope of finding adequate employment anytime soon. Millions more have lost their homes and a new wave of foreclosures is set to sweep the country.”
History of the Foreclosure Crisis
The recently released Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s (FCIC) report echoes what Illinois People’s Action has been saying since the late 1990s. Predatory and subprime lending was on the rise in an increasingly unregulated market and, if unchecked, it had the potential to bring our economy down. IPA (then known as the Central Illinois Organizing Project; CIOP) met with Barack Obama when he was still an Illinois State Senator in 2002 to talk about the perils of predatory lending in Illinois. The organization spearheaded an anti-predatory lending initiative to intervene with borrowers facing foreclosure as a result of predatory loans.
As lenders discovered an untapped housing market, subprime lending began to soar. New “innovative” products were introduced on an almost daily basis, each more complicated and risky than the last. Adjustable rate loans teased borrowers with low initial interest rates. Option ARMS allowed borrowers to pay interest only or even less-than-interest rates on their mortgage, causing borrowers to fall further behind on their debt every month. Many of the products were offered to borrowers without determining the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. Once the deal was closed, and the brokers got their cut, the loans were securitized, packaged and sold to unsuspecting investors. A year or two later when the interest rates on these loans started to adjust upward, the borrowers found the new rates unaffordable. The trickle of foreclosures we saw in the 2000s grew to a stream by 2005, which grew to a raging river by 2007 and Niagara Falls by 2008.
We’re Only Halfway through the Foreclosure Crisis
We’ve seen nearly 6 million American families lose their home in the foreclosure crisis. As many as 13 million are predicted to lose their home before the crisis abates in 2012. That means we’re only about halfway through the crisis. And the new faces of foreclosure will be the millions of Americans who, like Virginia, never took out a predatory or subprime loan. They took out affordable loans that they could afford. They paid on them for years—never missing a payment, never late with a payment. But then, due to no fault of their own, they lost their jobs. They lost their jobs when the economy tanked because of as Wall Street and Big Bank greed and lack of regulatory oversight. And now the very entities that caused the Great Recession, wants us to pretend that everything is back to normal and we should move on. Those without jobs and those struggling to keep their homes wonder who is on their side. IPA is.
500 IPA leaders meet with Federal Reserve 2009
In 2009, IPA with its national affiliate, National People’s Action, met with Ben Bernanke, Chair of the Federal Reserve, and demanded the Federal Reserve get out of the Washington bubble and come out and meet real people on the ground. IPA hosted one of 10 national Federal Reserve meetings. 500 concerned citizens came out to address the foreclosure crisis, other forms of predatory lending and the need for community economic development. In 2010, IPA followed up on that meeting with the U.S. Treasury and hosted a similar meeting with the Treasury. IPA collaborated with 25 other groups around the state, inviting them to a roundtable discussion with the Treasury, proposing significant changes to the Treasury’s anti-foreclosure program. The program, which was supposed to help 3-4 million homeowners facing foreclosure, has only helped about 20% that number. IPA posits that the reasons for this include the fact that the program was voluntary and that the very institutions who caused the problem were continuing to make money by not solving it. We continue to organize for meaningful reforms, most recently organizing to encourage the 50 Attorneys General to mandate meaningful modifications as part of their settlement with the big banks involved in foreclosure fraud.
What Can I Do?
Call Lisa Madigan at (312) 814-3000 and tell her that you want her to push for a strong settlement that does more than fines the banks. It needs to result in homeowners keeping their homes.
Read IPA newsletters and attend IPA chapter meetings to stay informed and be ready for action when it is needed.
Homeless United for Change, an IPA partner and member organization, was first organized in January 2007 by a group of citizens concerned with homelessness in Springfield, IL. HUC’s first public appearance was at the Springfield City Council meeting in April of 2007. Members of HUC with experience in program evaluation spent the first year studying the ten-year plans of twenty different cities to end chronic homelessness.
HUC helps shed light on the plight of the homeless in Springfield and beyond. HUC supports the approach to addressing homelessness known as “Housing First”. HUC promotes leadership and encourages individuals who have experienced homelessness to speak for themselves.
Please take a moment and watch the powerful video below of HUC witnessing their stories to the public (video courtesy of The State Journal Register, Springfield, IL).
Box cities aren’t that uncommon on college campus quads to raise awareness of homeless issues. But what happens when organized homeless leaders from two states join up in a downtown church parking lot with 25 refrigerator boxes and 30 degree weather?
They get together, tell their advocate friends how to stay warm, and share stories and songs.
A car load of key leaders from Kalamazoo Homeless Action Network (KHAN) joined up with over 20 leaders of Homeless United for Change (HUC-IPA) in a show of solidarity in the last weekend of Homeless Awareness Week. The action was covered by the local ABC station which reported live from the site at 6 and 10pm.
Both organizations are spearheading very similar organizing drives in their communities, separated by 251 miles but joined by a common respect for human rights. This became clear when KHAN leaders presented a brief leadership training session for HUC members at First Presbyterian Church – the official unofficial HUC headquarters. And while there were the sharing of stories about police abuse and city unresponsiveness, most of the real conversation was about KHAN’s move toward a Kalamazoo housing fund and HUC’s campaign for a day center and housing first.
The leaders agreed to connect up again in Washington with NPA, and work together to meet with the federal interagency office on homelessness.
HOMELESS UNITED FOR CHANGE HONORED Springfield IPA member organization Homeless United for Change was honored by the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association with the 2008 Humanitarian of the Year award on September 23rd, 2008, at the Association’s annual fall welcoming banquet. Homeless United for Change (HUC) was the first group, rather than an individual, to be awarded this honor. Accepting the award for HUC were IPA leaders and partners, JoAnna Moore and Barb Olson.
On November 4th, 2008, the citizens of Bloomington, IL took to the polls to overwhelmingly pass the advisory referendum which asked whether Bloomington city workers should be paid a living wage of $9.81 per hour. Nearly 65% of Bloomington voters said “YES” to a living wage in Bloomington!
The Central Illinois Organizing Project has calculated the percentage of voters in each Bloomington ward supporting living wage for Bloomington City workers. The breakdown is as follows:
“In every ward, this is a landslide victory,” says Jack Porter, IPA spokesperson. Within those wards, 43 of 44 precincts in the city had a majority of “yes” votes on the living wage referendum. See the election results here or view maps and voting detail here.
Bloomington City Worker Speaks Out: I Save Lives, but Had to Sell Plasma for Food
In the last week, some Bloomington workers have come forward to talk about the difference a living wage would mean to them. They want to correct the notion that there is no need for a living wage for the city jobs in question because those jobs are held by “teenagers” who only use their wages as “pocket money.” Clarissa Kaehlert has worked for the city for eight years, primarily at Bloomington City swimming pools as a life guard, swimming instructor, O’Neil Pool assistant manager and the assistant swim coach for the Bloomington swim team. In those eight years, she has NEVER EARNED A LIVING WAGE despite the fact she works full time during the summer season. Last summer, Clarissa had to sell plasma to make ends meet. She says the difference between her hourly wage and a living wage would have purchased a week’s worth of groceries each month or filled her car with gas twice a month enabling her to drive to and from work.
We want the city to treat it’s employees with fairness. We are a wealthy and generous city. We can afford this. The increase in the city budget would be less than 0.3%. It’s all about priorities. We believe in investing in people. If you agree, please contact your Alderman and let your city representative know that you don’t think its employees should have to sell plasma to put food on their tables.
Listen to a WJBC interview on Living Wage and Clarissa Kaehlert’s story here.
League of Women Voters Endorse Living Wage Referendum!
The McLean County League of Women Voters endorsed the Living Wage referendum question. The group reached consensus at their meeting after hearing from proponent IPA leader Jean Pretz and opponent Bloomington City Manager Tom Hamilton. The League support is critical in demonstrating broad based support for the policy question. According to Peoria’s HOI 19 News, spokesperson Laurie Bergner said, “We felt the people who work in the community and have a 40 hour a week job, ought to be able to make enough to live in that community and that’s what the living wage’s number is based on.”
McLean County Chamber of Commerce "Flip-Flops" on Living Wage Position
In a letter to IPA dated September 29, 2006, Russ Hagen, the President of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, stated, “In reviewing the living wage issue, as you explained your position, that this is an internal wage rate issue within the city of Bloomington. Since this is an internal issue our participation will be minimum.” But now, under pressure from their members and only a month from election day, they have come out in opposition to a Living Wage, issuing a statement on October 2nd. Read the HOI 19 News story or view the Chamber’s statement.
IPA and Friends Beat Back Challenge to Living Wage Referendum Petition!
The outcome of the Bloomington Election Commission, six hour hearing determined that we needed 1496 signatures, and we came in with 1497 (after 422 challenges and counter-challenges)!!! ONE VOTE MADE THE DIFFERENCE!!! Thank you all for your hard work on the petition and your prayers as we faced this challenge. And for everyone who signed the petition, you own the right to tell others it was because of YOUR signature that all voters in Bloomington will be able to vote on making Living Wage a reality in their community come November! For more info email: email@example.com
IPA Brings Living Wage to Nov. '08 Ballot in Bloomington!
On Monday, August 11th, IPA leaders and friends held a celebratory rally at Withers Park in downtown Bloomington and then marched to the Government Center to deliver the, nearly 1750, signatures of Bloomington residents who believe that Bloomington city workers should be paid a living wage. The collection of these signatures will result in the people of Bloomington being given the opportunity to have their voices heard on the living wage issue when a non-binding resolution is placed on the ballot in the November election. This is a great success in the struggle for living wage!
Living Wage: Fostering Justice in Central Illinois
The Central Illinois Organizing Project recently reinvigorated its living wage efforts, taking on two young organizers to head the campaign. The initial goal of this campaign was gathering petition signatures. Once a certain number of signatures were collected – 1,525 from registered Bloomington voters – a non-binding referendum will appear on the November ballot. IPA surpassed the 1,525 criteria in July. This will allow IPA, politicians, and the public to gauge public response to the Living Wage Issue.
IPA now begins the second part of the campaign: educating the public on the issue, and helping individuals understand just what it means to be part of a community that supports a Living Wage. The idea is this: let the people decide how much to pay their workers; let the people choose to make their town one that pays its workers a fair and decent wage; let the people create justice in Central Illinois.
IPA would like to thank the many volunteers from churches, unions, and neighborhood organizations who have participated in canvassing. – by Tyler Miller
Our Stance on Living Wage
As a faith-based organization, we see this as an issue of justice. IPA has led the fight to end predatory lending practices and has helped low and moderate income people purchase a home. We have fought for night bus service in Springfield, Illinois so those without cars and people with disabilities are not trapped at night. We work to help family farmers who practice responsible and sustainable agriculture. It is within this context that we are endorsing a living wage.
The development and moneyed interests are certainly being represented in our government and in this arena. We represent those who believe that this arena should benefit the entire community. We represent those who believe in hard work and see the benefits to the community and to the arena in paying a fair wage. We represent an inter-faith community that is unique in our area bringing together people of conscience to work for a just and prosperous community.
What is a Living Wage?
The term “living wage” is fluid. The actual amount varies from community to community based upon the cost of living in that community. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2006, an individual seeking a one-bedroom apartment in Bloomington would need to earn $9.52/hour to meet federal guidelines that individuals not spend more than 30% of his/her gross income for rent. There are many methodologies for determining what a living wage is in a community – we believe basic housing costs is an appropriate way – but there are others such as an increased percentage over poverty levels.
Living Wage seeks to responsibly and affordably raise the hourly rate for workers contracted or sub-contracted to the City of Bloomington, Illinois. This specifically includes part-time workers employed by the City (school crossing guards and City Hall janitors) and the hundreds of employees for the US Cellular Coliseum.
An anti-living wage argument raised by some is it shouldn’t apply for part-time workers. We couldn’t disagree more! One of the leading causes of poverty in central Illinois is underemployment. We are aware all too well that many low income citizens string together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. In fact, we are aware of homeless citizens who work at the Coliseum to survive. Shouldn’t our community help them make a living wage?
Jobs with the City of Bloomington should be a means out of poverty and not a means of perpetuating poverty.
Our community has a right and an obligation to set wages for our own workforce.
The 2006 Living Wage rate of $9.52 per hour equates to only about 10 cents per ticket at the new arena.
Why is a Living Wage Important in Central Illinois?
If we want to tackle poverty head-on we need to put more money in people’s pockets. Though the causes of poverty is multi-faceted, the leading factor in Central Illinois is underemployment. Underemployment is being employed but either through limited hours or being paid minimum wage (usually a combination) a wage earner finds themselves unable to be lifted out of poverty.
Though the state of Illinois minimum wage rate increased to $6.50 on January 1, 2005 (up from the federal minimum of $5.15), a worker must still work at least 53 hours to afford the same standard one-bedroom apartment in Bloomington-Normal, IL.
Evening Bus Service a Future Reality?
For thousands of residents public transportation is their access to mobility and freedom. This is particular true for people with disabilities and lower income families without cars.
It is also a jobs issue. Without public transportation, in this case, buses, workers with disabilities (and students) ability to get to their jobs is curtailed if not eliminated as well as for other workers unable to afford a car.
In the capitol city of Illinois, Springfield, the public buses shut-down at 6pm. Springfield is the only city of its size in Central Illinois without evening service, and over the last many decades the Springfield Mass Transit District (SMTD – sorry, no website) has shown little leadership to meet the needs of evening ridership.
IPA has held numerous public meetings and direct actions on SMTD to create change on this issue. The organization has joined forces with a coallition of diability groupd and other grassroots leaders. Finally after nearly 8 months of organizing SMTD agreed to submit a funding request to both initiate a study of evening service and most importantly a Congretional request to fund a pilot evening bus service project.
Not letting up on the issue get stale, IPA Springfield leaders, Kathi Edwards (First Presbyterian), Rev. Charles Jackson (St. John’s AME Church), Ednamae Bruce (Hope Presbyterian) let other IPA members in Washington on April 25 to take the issue directly to the US Congress!
Bus Routes Proposed Please review the proposed night route network and give us your feedback! View the full PDF map here.
November 2006 (Springfield, IL): Nearly 200 residents attend joint IPA/ Urbitran/IDOT public hearing on need for evening bus service. Of over 40 speakers, all testimony provided spoke to the need for evening service from a variety of perspectives. Many of the audience members and those providing testimony represented the disability community of Springfield. Urbitran states at the hearing that based on hearing attendance feasibility study will proceed to next phase.
September 2006 (Washington, DC): Federal Funds are released to SMTD for both Pilot Bus Service and Consultant Feasibility Study. Feasiblity Study Advisory Board meets on September 27 with Urbitran Engineering.
June 2006: In a 30 day follow-up call with Obama and Durbin staff, IPA learns the transfer between federal agencies has been agreed to. IPA will be copied the emailed the federal DOT commitment.
May 2006 (Washington, DC): Even the best plans can run into Washington problems. Though the appropriate passed Congress and signed by the President, the pilot project was placed in the Highway budget and not the federal transportation administration budget. In meetings in Washington, IPA leaders renew the support of Sen. Obama staff Mike Strautmanis and Sen. Durbin staff Mike McLaughlin to move the federal bureaucracy and get the funding released.
April 2005 (Washington, DC): IPA leaders got the job done while in Washington for National People’s Action conference. We spoke to both Senator Durbin and Senator Obama’s office regarding securing their support for funding evening bus service in Springfield IL. Both agreed to fight and submit for inclusion of $375,000 to fund a pilot project to implement evening bus service in Springfield.
May 18, 2005 (Springfield): IPA leaders and allies went to the Springfield Mass Transit District Board meeting to report on our meeting with the Washington offices of Senator Durbin and Obama regarding funding evening bus service. These congressional meetings were dovetailed with our participation at the 34th annual National People’s Action (NPA) conference.
SMTD Board chair agreed to “get working” and committed to write letters to the Illinois congressional delegation supporting evening bus service funding, attach IPA’s letter to theirs, and send IPA a copy. We’re moving in the right direction! Let’s make those bus headlights come on in 2005!