The Next Mortgage Problem

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Could the mortgage on the building that once housed your local Circuit City be Ground Zero for the next financial crisis? A new report (PDF) by Elizabeth Warren‘s Congressional Oversight Panel, which is in charge of monitoring the bank bailouts, says “maybe.”

Warren’s panel warns that a rapidly approaching “wave” of loan losses on commercial real estate (CRE) “could jeopardize the stability of many banks.” That’s because $1.4 trillion in CRE loans need to be refinanced between 2011 and 2014, and according to the panel “nearly half” of them are “underwater”—that is, the mortgage-holders owe more than the underlying property is worth. If the owners can’t refinance, they’ll probably default. That’s bad:

When commercial properties fail, it creates a downward spiral of economic contraction: job losses; deteriorating store fronts, office buildings and apartments; and the failure of the banks serving those communities.

There’s more bad news: it’s community banks, not the Wall Street giants, that are most vulnerable to CRE defaults. And the panel doesn’t rule out the possibility of bailing out some of them:

There are no easy solutions to these problems.  Although it endorses no specific proposals, the Panel identifies a number of possible interventions to contain the problem until the commercial real estate market can return to health. The Panel is clear that government cannot and should not keep every bank afloat. But neither should it turn a blind eye to the dangers of unnecessary bank failures and their impact on communities.

It’s a heck of a dilemma. No one wants to see more bailouts—and they’re probably politically impossible, anyway. But if community banks fail, the big banks will become even more powerful and the financial system will become even more vulnerable to catastrophic failure. What a mess.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate