When Elizabeth Warren’s speech yesterday in which she attacked Donald Trump, she led it with this heartbreaking anecdote:
He and his wife both worked hard, and they had stretched their budget to buy a house that was right across the street from a really good school for his two little girls. He was so obviously proud of those girls, and he loved how he could open up his garage and look across and see his daughters playing at the school playground.
But the Estradas had a mortgage with an ugly surprise buried in the fine print. When the payments jumped, they fell behind. Mr. Estrada and his wife talked to the bank over and over, and he thought they had arranged a settlement. Then—poof!—the house was sold at auction. The notice said he had 14 days to move his family—those two little girls—out of their home.
Mr. Estrada told us that after they got the notice, his six-year-old came home with a full sheet of paper with all of her friends’ names on it. She told him that this was her list of people who were going to miss her because her family was going to have to move. He said he told his daughter, “I don’t care if I have to live in a van. You’re still going to be able to go to this school.”
Mr. Estrada was a solidly built guy, a good family man. I watched as he struggled not to cry in front of a room full of strangers. I watched as he groped for the words to explain what this crazy financial meltdown was doing to his two little girls. Mr. Estrada came to that hearing for help, but there was no help for him. No, Washington was too busy bailing out the giant banks to help out the Estrada family.
Anecdotes are always heart-rending but somehow I scratch my head in wonder over someone who views having to make mortgage payments as “an ugly surprise buried in the fine print.” I question the commonsense — and maybe the sanity — of any father who would seriously contemplate having his family live in a van so the child could go to the same school (I say that as someone who attended 10 schools in 12 years and the last three years were all spent at the same school). The important thing to keep in mind here is that the housing bubble bursting had zero to do with Donald Trump or big banks. Its roots lay in federal policy that encouraged lenders to make loans to people, like Mr. Estrada, who were simply not financially able to make mortgage payments.
This is not to say that there aren’t people who profiteer off the misfortune or vulnerabilty of others:
Nearly two years after Veo Vessels died, her daughter, 70-year-old Mary Frances Hickman, decided to sell the home her mother had left to her. A sprawling brick house in Oklahoma City’s historic Highland Park neighborhood, it was built in 1924, just a year after Mary’s birth.
Decades later, one of Vessels’ great-grandchildren fondly recalls the wood and tile floors, the fish pond, the butler’s quarters, and the multi-car garage where children played house.
“It was really, really nice,” says Hickman’s granddaughter, Andrea Martin. That’s part of the reason she’s so surprised her grandmother sold the home in 1993 for a mere $30,000. Despite a debilitating stroke, Martin says Hickman remained sharp, and she had always been business-savvy. As an Avon saleswoman, she had at times ranked among the top ten in the country. “So I don’t know why,” Martin says. “Maybe she just wanted out from underneath it, but to sell it for such a low number — I don’t know. Maybe she got bad advice, maybe she was just tired.”
The home’s new owner: Elizabeth Warren, today a Massachusetts senator who has built a political career on denouncing the sort of banking titans and financial sophisticates who make a buck off the little guy. Five months after purchasing Veo Vessels’ old home, Warren flipped the property, selling it for $115,000 more than she’d paid, according to Oklahoma County Property Assessor records.
The Boston Herald investigated Warren’s profiteering off of home foreclosures back in 2012. As usual, the champions of the little guy couldn’t be bothered to take notice.
How did Warren inveigle an elderly stroke victim into selling her home for a pittance? We’ll never know. But what we do know is that while Warren was still white and living in Oklahoma she made a tidy sum of money in buying foreclosed properties and flipping them. The original owners lost their home, banks and the taxpayers lost money, and Warren made a lot of money.