Saturday, February 28, 2009

Housing Mess: Mortgages, Homeowners, and Renters -- Plus a Rant and Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack!

There's a great little bit in the hilarious 2005 movie "Thank You For Smoking" where the Aaron Eckhart and Katie Holmes characters talk about how people do all kinds of stupid, possibly evil things "for the mortgage" -- as in, to pay it. A third character then jokes that the world might be a better place if more people rented. It's a fun bit from a fun movie, but these days the whole idea cuts a whole lot more deeply. I'm a renter, see!

We've all been talking a lot about the mortgage mess. Plenty of people are unhappy about it. Responsible homeowners -- who comprise the vast majority of mortgage holders -- are perfectly justifiable in being angry at the entire government plan to help out the delinquent ones. The Santelli rant and its sequel did touch a raw nerve. Moral hazard is everywhere. A few nights ago, comedian Jay Leno had a great bit in his monologue in which he talked about a friend of his who lived within his means and bought a house he could afford . . . "What an IDIOT!" Leno said, to great applause and laughter. Oh, it was funny, but it was the kind of funny that covers up the wince of truth.

Here's a bit more acerbic humor, courtesy of the Tennessee GOP, which has just made this bumper sticker:

Maybe they should also print a version that says "Honk if I'm paying your mortgage." (Great use of the Obama "O" too.) Anyway, the basic sentiment is the same: some people are ending up paying other people's mortgages.

OK, so responsible homeowners are irate, as they should be. 92% of homeowners are paying mortgages on time, versus 8% that are the rotten apple in the barrel. But hey! Not everybody in this country has a mortgage. LOTS of people -- myself included, with most of my friends -- are renters. What about these people? As taxpaying renters, we're going to be paying for delinquent homeowners' mortgages too. HONESTLY, THAT JUST TICKS ME OFF.

There's all this pious-sounding drivel coming from the government about "keeping people in their homes." Oh, yeah, you mean the homes they shouldn't have gotten in the first place? The homes they couldn't afford or the homes they foolishly bought on a financial gamble? (Is it time to flip off all the house-flippers?) Now some people can't pay their obligations, but we've all got to do something to keep them in those now-toxic houses? You can call me cold and cruel and heartless and mean and everything else, but I'm ranting. And I don't think this is a partisan political rant, either.

Here's a slice of reality from my universe. I rent an apartment. If I fall behind in my payments, guess what? I GET EVICTED FROM MY APARTMENT. Pure and simple, short and sweet, no whining, no arguing, no crying to the government, no sob stories about whatever -- I GET KICKED OUT OF MY PLACE IF I DON'T PAY THE RENT. End of story. Dude, who's going to help me pay my rent if I'm supposed to help people pay their stinky mortgages? (And don't tell me that the coming $13-a-week "tax cut" is going to do diddly squat for renting on the East Coast. It's a drop in the bucket.) So for all the wailing from those who have been reckless and now want rescue: CRY ME A RIVER. And cry another for all the other renters who are losing jobs, having their hours cut at work, seeing the price of everything (including rents) skyrocket, and fighting the good fight on their own.

And do you think there's no pain for people renting? no pain for people paying their mortgages on time? We're ALL economically pressed. Everybody I know is feeling the pinch. Nobody's helping us -- I pay my rent on my miserable nerd-income, and I do it all by myself every month with no assistance from anybody (the American Dream! and I actually wasn't being sarcastic). All my buddies and I are counting pennies and severely cutting back on expenses. But we're making our payments on time (and also paying our bills and maybe even managing to stash away a penny here and there). I feel as though all this doesn't even MATTER. It's that moral hazard again. Besides, now things are so bad everywhere that I might never have the chance to buy a house even if I wanted one later on (which I kind of don't) because houses will be artificially overpriced. Hello?

Don't even get me started on the loopy idea that everybody should own a house. This is a patently ludicrous idea, and for a really long time it was bolstered by the equally ludicrous idea that house values would always increase because they'd been increasing for a long time. NO, not everybody should own a house, and that's that.

Anyway, check out Megan McArdle's recent piece on the homeowner/renter divide.

Also, there's a new website called AngryRenter.Com -- no bonus points for guessing its nature and purpose. Here's their video:

End of rant. If you're in a peppery mood, you can check out Atlanta Tax Protest's own rant: "I got your mortgage support right here!"

I'm going to go listen to Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head" now as the new and 22nd track to the ongoing Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack. Better than actually banging my head against the wall! "I'm not a loser and I ain't no weeper"! Just an angry, self-reliant taxpaying renter.

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