SECURITIZATION: How our society changed when we learned to turn lead into gold.
The idea of turning worthless metal into gold has fascinated us for thousands of years. The word, alchemy, is derived from the Greek meaning, “The Egyptian Art”. And Lapis philosophorum, referred to as the philosophers’ stone, is the legendary alchemical substance, that was said to be capable of turning base metals, especially lead, into gold.
Legend has it that a 13th-century scientist and philosopher named Albertus Magnus discovered the philosopher’s stone. In his writings, Magnus reported that he witnessed the creation of gold by “transmutation”.
Sir Isaac Newton, the same guy that I was taught, needed an apple to fall on his head to figure out the whole gravity thing, was also a famous alchemist.
I imagine that the whole idea of lead being turned into gold was probably involved in the world’s first securities fraud case brought by an investor, like maybe Sir Issac Newton was really just an 18th century version of Bernie Madoff, and all that gravity stuff was just the work of a public relations firm putting the right spin his image.
“Let’s go with the gravity pitch… and also… I’m gaga over that whole Apple thing… I want to see some sketches on my desk by Old Hallowed Eve”
Anyway, it’s easy to see how the idea of turning something of little value into gold would capture man’s attention. It’s the ultimate winning Powerball ticket. Like Jack’s magic beans getting him the goose that lays golden eggs.
It’s impossible, of course. You can’t turn lead into gold.
Or can you?
Securitization… We’re Forever in Your Debt
I think you have to be at least in your forties to remember what life was like before securitization took hold of out society.
Before that, people used to say that the only way a bank would give you a loan was if you could prove you didn’t need one. Once securitization was driving our national pride, banks made loans as fast as they could in the form of credit cards, auto loans, and every other flavor of debt imaginable.
Before securitization kids grew up with fewer presents for their birthdays and holidays, and I don’t need a source for that statistic. Hotel rooms never cost $600 a night pre-securitization. In fact, there were simply far fewer “luxury goods” before we were all sold on the idea that taking on debt was the hip-hop-happening thing to do.
Just take look at what’s happened to cars.
Before securitization I wanted a Ford Bronco. After securitization, I wanted a Range Rover. The Bronco was way better, by the way, but it cost me $792.40 a month for three years to find that out.
I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime in the last decade, the price of cars went completely around the corner and up the hill. One day, a really expensive car cost $40,000. I went away for the weekend, came home and a really expensive car cost $65,000. Three months later, top of the line was $80,000. And today, there are ultra-luxo-window stickers reading $115,000 and more. I don’t know how you feel about this issue, but for $115,000, I need bedrooms. Thank you securitization!
A few years ago, my daughter, then maybe 12 years old, said she wanted True Religion jeans. All the kids were wearing them, and I’m a father who understands and accommodates the forces of peer pressure, so to the mall we went. Nordstrom’s, an entire department store that stands as a testament to securitization, carried the ultra-desirable jeans. How much could they be, I wondered as I reached for the price tag.
Do you know the answer to this one? If you don’t, you better sit down… $310.
When I first saw the price tag I thought they must sell them as a 6-pak, but no. Three hundred bucks for one pair of True Religion jeans. They’re jeans. Like Levis with heavy, pronounced stitching so they look like someone made them in a high school sewing class. And God forbid they have an over sized piece of glass on the pockets, and you’re closing in on four bills with tax and tip.
The girl at the check out counter asked me how I’d like to pay for them. I replied, “How about a little bit each month for a couple of years at an obnoxiously high interest rate,” and I handed over my plastic debtor card.
In one fell swoop, I made my daughter happy beyond words, and at the same time, I did my part for Wall Street’s bond builders. Little did I know that those bond builders would soon cause the credit markets to freeze solid, leading us into an ice age in the credit markets that would transform the United States government into the lender of first and last resort.
Sidebar:By the way, in this story the stock market is largely irrelevant. Here’s what David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, one of the insiders to today’s crisis, said about what has happened:
“What most people don’t realize is that the fixed-income (read: bond) world dwarfs the equity (read: stock) world. The equity world is like a f#@king zit compared with the bond market.”
I’ve noticed that people know very little about the bond market. But then, we don’t make movies about the bond market, now do we?
What is Securitization?
Securitization is a process that takes certain assets (think: loans) and “pools” them so they can be packaged into debt securities, which are a type of bond. The interest and principal payments that come from the borrower making payments on a loan are paid to those that invest in the securities/bonds. Basically, when you take a bunch of mortgages, put them into a pool, slice them into tranches… you’ve turned it into a “security,” a bond… and so, you’ve “securitized” the loans.
Okay, let’s start here: Lending money to anyone is risky.
No matter what, you just never know if the loan will be repaid. The borrower may intend to repay it, but can’t due to a life event that could not have been foreseen. Maybe the borrower became unemployed unexpectedly. Maybe divorced. Or, I don’t know… like, maybe the borrower got hit by a bus… and don’t we all hate it when that happens.
It’s probably a little safer to lend money to someone with a good credit score than a bad one, but no matter what FICO says, lending money to any human being is still a significant risk.
Securitization changed all that… it made lending money lot safer.
Lending money to people can also be quite profitable, so when securitization reduced the risk of doing so, a whole lot more investors wanted to do it. After all, stocks go up and down, but bonds are IOUs from corporations or the government. If they’re rated triple A by the bond market’s credit rating agencies, Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poors, they’re just about like money in the bank… the kind of investment that’s perfect for a pension fund.
Securitization got its start in the 1970s, when home mortgages were pooled by U.S. government-backed agencies, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, and Sallie Mae.
When you securitize mortgages you spread the risk of lending money to any one individual by creating a pool of loans and then slicing them into debt securities, called bonds, that entitle their holders to a percentage of the payment streams, (made up of the principal and interest payments made by the borrowers as they make payments on their mortgages). Because the mortgages are pooled, if one person doesn’t make their mortgage payment, the impact to any one of the investors is minimal.
The securitization process involves two steps:
Step One: A company that originated loans identifies which loans it wants to remove from its balance sheet. It creates a pool of these loans, referred to as the “reference portfolio”.
Next it sells this reference portfolio to an entity referred to as an “issuer,” which is set up by a financial institution to purchase the assets in the pool. Issuers are “special purpose vehicles,” commonly called “Structured Investment Vehicles” or SIVs and SIVs exist off of a company’s balance sheet for both accounting and legal purposes.
Step Two: The issuer finances the purchases of the assets in the pool by issuing and selling mortgage-backed securities… bonds… tradable, interest-bearing securities sold to investors. The reference portfolio, or pool of assets, generates cash flows that fund a trustee account that pays investors fixed or floating rate payments.
The originator of the loans services the loans in the reference portfolio, in some cases anyway, and collects payments from the borrowers who took out the loans. The servicer deducts its fee from the payments collected and then passes the balance on to the SPV or trustee.
Okay, how are we doing? Hanging in there?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always go back and read those last two paragraphs again slowly. It’s not complicated. It just takes a little getting used to. Here’s an even simpler explanation of the two steps above:
Step One, Take Two: We originate some loans that we don’t want on our books anymore. We want to sell them to someone else, but the someone else probably doesn’t want them either… for the same reasons that we don’t. So, we make a list of these loans and we call it our “reference portfolio”. Then we set up a separate company with a “special purpose,” that’s not found on our financial statements. That entity is called an SIV, and its purpose is to buy the loans that we want off our books.
Step Two, Take Two: Now, the SIV we set up needs to buy the loans we want off our books, but it needs money to buy them. So, the SIV finances the purchase of the loans by selling mortgage-backed securities (called “pass-through certificates) to investors.
As the borrowers make their payments, they are placed into a trustee account, which pays the investors either a fixed or variable rate of interest, which becomes the investor’s return on their investment in the mortgage-backed securities.
And since we originated the loans, we want to keep servicing them… we just didn’t want them on our books anymore… we don’t mind earning a fee for sending out the monthly statements and collecting the payments. We take our fee off the top of what we collect , and send the rest to the trustee account.
Better? I hope so.
Can you see how it would be less risky for an investor to buy a mortgage-backed security… which is a share of a pool of loans that have been securitized… then it would be to loan someone $500,000 for a single mortgage? Way less risk, right? Okay, let’s move on…
More recently, like in the last 15 years, Wall Street started dividing the reference portfolio into sections called “tranches”. Each tranche represents a different amount of risk to the investor. The least risky tranche is the senior tranche, or super senior tranche, and it receives its share of the cash flows before any of the more junior tranches.
Once the most senior tranche has received all that it’s supposed to, then the middle tranche starts filling up. And once the middle tranche is full with the amounts it was supposed to receive, then the bottom tranche starts to fill with cash flows from the payments borrowers are making.
(In a previous article on Mandelman Matters, I described these tranches as drawers in a dresser, in case you don’t recall. You can find that article here: Mandelman U.)
In our latest financial meltdown, the most senior tranche was rated triple A, so the mortgage-backed securities that came from the most senior tranche were triple A rated bonds.
The middle tranche was rated triple B, so the bonds sold from that tranche were rated triple B, which is the lowest rating that’s considered “investment grade”. And the bottom tranche was rated below triple B, so we can think of the bottom tranche as being akin to junk bonds. (Sometimes the bottom tranche is called the NIM, for “Net Interest Margin,” and other times you’ll see it referred to as the “equity tranche.”)
Securitization provided a way for banks and financial institutions to find new sources of funds either by moving assets (loans) off of their balance sheets, or by borrowing against them, which replenishes the cash needed to originate more loans.
You see… it’s the circle of life, Simba.
Securitization made a bank’s cost of borrowing go way down because assets being securitized are removed from the bank’s balance sheet, which means that issuers can raise funds to finance the purchase of assets more cheaply than would be possible on the strength of the originator’s balance sheet alone.
And unlike conventional debt, securitization does not inflate a company’s liabilities, so it generates funds for future investment… without balance sheet growth. So cool, right?
The system of originating loans, securitizing them, and selling the securities cut from the pool seemed to work just fine and dandy for a long time, bringing huge economic benefits to this country. Let’s face it, it’s an attractive proposition… all the advantages of lending without the risk of not being repaid.
The marketing of debt was on the move, and soon we became a country jammed packed with consumers anxious to borrow and spend, borrow and spend. Money from overseas became jealous, and figuratively speaking, booked passage to the USA’s spectacular spending grounds, where the streets were said to be paved with gold and platinum plastic cards.
The 1980s… If you can borrow it, they can securitize it.
Beginning in the 1980s, Wall Street started securitizing other forms of debt too… anything considered an “income producing asset,” because payments made by the borrowers could provide an income stream to the investor. Car loans, credit cards, student loans, computer loans, aircraft loans… if we could borrow it, Wall Street found a way to securitize it.
When mortgages are used as the backing for the bonds, we call them mortgage-backed securities (MBSs), and when other types of income producing assets are behind the cash flows, we call the bonds “asset-backed securities (ABSs).
In theory, securitization reduces the risks of lending and increases liquidity for loan originators. For society as a whole, however, securitization is a double-edged sword.
Securitization transforms an illiquid asset… a loan… into a publicly issued tradable debt security. It also takes loans on a balance sheet made to people with relatively low credit scores and turns them into triple A rated bonds… very much like alchemy… the “science” of turning lead into gold.
And when you can turn lead (sub-prime loans) into gold (triple A rated bonds) there’s a strong incentive to make more sub-prime loans.
You see, there’s virtually unlimited global demand for triple A rated bonds because they’re supposed to be as safe as bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. But there’s NOT an unlimited supply of sub-prime loans.
To use our alchemy analogy, a few years into the housing bubble, Wall Street found there was a shortage of lead, so they started doing everything possible to get more lead… they started predatory lead gathering, if you get my meaning.
Over the past three decades, the number of securitized residential mortgages in this country has increased steadily and dramatically… roughly 45% at the end of 2004, roughly 51% at the end 2007. Some private securitizations, as opposed to the U.S. government-backed variety, grew by 102% between the years 2004 and 2007, accounting for almost 40% of total mortgage securitizations by the end 2007. The vast majority of the loans placed into private securitization pools during this period were sub-prime or Alt-A.
Securitization is what drives all of those credit card and mortgage advertisements… it’s what has fueled the campaigns to convince us to embrace debt as being a good thing, a status symbol, something to be desired.
Our country’s economy grew, as we all went further in debt. And credit was made available to more people than ever before, even those with relatively low credit scores. That’s why someone with low income was given a $700,000 mortgage during the bubble.
But, is that what caused the economic crisis we’re now in? Was it the sub-prime borrowers not making their mortgage payments that drove our economy off of the proverbial cliff?
No, it was not.
Securitization is why we all started living with debt without thinking about it as a burden. It’s why, when going to the mall armed with our credit cards, we say we’re “going shopping,” instead of describing what we’re really doing, which is “going borrowing”.
Try this the next time you pull out your Visa or MasterCard to “buy” something.”
Say to yourself… “I’m now borrowing money at a high interest rate. Chances are that product, or whatever it is, won’t look nearly as good as it did a few minutes ago.” Whatever you see in the window… ask yourself if you want to borrow money at 20% interest to get it.
Securitization did many good things too. It made mortgages available to more people, so more people could own their own home. Home ownership is a good thing for a nation’s economy for obvious reasons. People invest in homes. They raise families in homes. As home prices rise, wealth is accumulated in the form of home equity.
Historically, sub-prime loans performed quite well. People, in general, tend to pay their mortgages, a fact that should come as little surprise to anyone. People with less than stellar credit scores pay their mortgages before they pay other bills because they value having a home a whole lot.
Understandably, they don’t want to move back to that apartment in which the kitchen smelled like old socks. In fact, one of the reasons the bond credit rating agencies rated the bonds backed by sub-prime mortgages as triple A, besides the impact of securitization into tranches, was the historical performance of sub-prime loans.
And, just for the record, sub-prime borrowers don’t intentionally go out and buy homes that they know they won’t be able to afford next year. You want to know why? Because no one likes moving their refrigerator that much. Because they have to find a friend who has a truck, like me, who will come over on a Saturday and help carry the fridge to their new apartment, which is invariably on the second floor and the elevator’s broken or not big enough.
No, what happened to cause the economic crisis that’s dragged us close to an outright depression, had little to do with sub-prime borrowers, it had a lot to do with securitization… and it had everything to do with derivatives, incentives, leverage, and the bond market, or rather the shattering of the bond and credit markets.
When Goldman Sachs CEO, Lord Blankcheck… I mean Lloyd Blankfein, testified about his firm’s role in a scandal du jour, in which Goldman was accused of betting against the bonds they sold to investors by buying credit default swaps that paid off when the bonds failed, he referred to the investors as being “sophisticated”.
But, bond investors are not, generally speaking, sophisticated. They buy using a credit rating system that uses letters of the alphabet to signify the amount of risk involved. I mean, you might as well color code the darn things… I’m buying yellow bonds today! I like purple bonds!
A recent S&P document states:
“Our ratings represent a uniform measure of credit quality globally and across all types of debt instruments. In other words, an ‘AAA’ rated corporate bond should exhibit the same degree of credit quality as an ‘AAA’ rated securitized issue.”
What happened to create this mess was NOT the result of borrowers borrowing too much, although some certainly did.
It wasn’t the housing bubble, although we did have one that popped.
It wasn’t predatory lending, stated income or Option ARM loans, although some of these caused problems for some people.
It wasn’t homeowners believing that real estate prices would go up forever, or using their homes like ATMs, although I’m sure there were some that were guilty of both.
It was Wall Street’s bankers abusing the system in every conceivable way… because they could do so for profit… and an enormous profit, at that. It was Wall Street’s investment banks that irresponsibly borrowed too much, Lehman was leveraged at 30:1. It was Wall Street’s banks that seemed to think that home prices would go up forever. And it was absolutely Wall Street’s bankers that used their banks like giant ATMs, pumping cash out of them until there was no more as reward for short term gains that turned out to be illusory.
Wall Street’s bankers abused the securitization process, creating mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations (“CDOs”), which are really towers of BBB rated mortgage-backed securities, that were unquestionably destined to default. They did this because, starting in 2003, someone at Goldman Sachs convinced someone at AIG to issue credit default swaps on triple A rated mortgage-backed securities. Make no mistake about it… they knew what they were doing.
From In Understanding the Securitization of Sub-prime Mortgage Credit, referenced below:
The rating agencies differ about what exactly is assessed. Whereas Fitch and S&P evaluate an obligor’s overall capacity to meet its financial obligation, and hence is best through of as an estimate of probability of default, Moody’s assessment incorporates some judgment of recovery in the event of loss.
In the argot of credit risk management, S&P measures PD (probability of default) while Moody’s measure is somewhat closer to EL (expected loss).
In 1998, there weren’t enough credit default swaps in existence to make any difference to anyone. By 2007 there were… it’s hard to say, but estimates seem to hover around $60 trillion. Today, those same estimates say the number has been reduced to $30-$40 trillion. That’s trillion, with a capital “TRILLION”.
Credit default swaps are sort of like bond insurance… they pay off when a bond defaults. Because triple A rated bonds hardly ever default, buying insurance that pays off when they do default was cheap. For example, for $200,000 a year for 10 years… you could buy a credit default swap insurance policy on $100 million in bonds backed by sub-prime mortgages. If the $100 million bond defaulted, the credit default swap would pay you the $100 million.
In Understanding the Securitization of Sub-prime Mortgage Credit, a white paper written Adam B. Ashcraft and Til Schuermann of the New York Federal Reserve Bank in March of 2008, they described the infrequency of highly rated bonds defaulting as follows:
Highly rated firms default quite rarely. For example, Moody’s reports that the one-year investment grade default rate over the period 1983-2006 was 0.073% or 7.3 basis points. This is an average over four letter grade ratings: Aaa through Baa.
So, buying a credit default swap on a mortgage-backed security that was backed by sub-prime loans became a way for institutional investors… they weren’t available to you or me… to short the sub-prime market. And you didn’t even have to own the mortgage-backed security to insure, or rather, bet… against its default.
Nothing was right about what was happening on Wall Street, but it wasn’t easy to see, in large part because it only went on for a few years, but also because Wall Street obfuscates what it doesn’t want others to see… in fact, Wall Street guys are legendary in that regard.
What could be seen were the houses. Bigger, newer, nicer and nicer, and lots of them… everywhere you looked. I felt like I had spent much of 2006 feeling like I was either a wimp in the risk taking department, or that I’d fallen behind in the race to the top of the hill. Where were all these houses coming from?
So, when things changed the country experienced the changes through the real estate market. The bubble had popped and everything that would happen after that would be blamed on those houses, those inside them, and those who sold them and the loans that financed them.
The bankers of Wall Street were insolvent and their insolvency threatened the global financial system, their behaviors had squandered untold trillions, but it was blamed on “irresponsible sub-prime borrowers”.
I ran the following paragraph by several people and they all thought that it was about right… so… conventional wisdom goes something like this:
Sub-prime, and other borrowers, irresponsibly got in over their heads and bought houses they couldn’t afford, or took out home equity loans in amounts they couldn’t afford to repay, and then at some point couldn’t make their payments.
When they didn’t pay for the houses and loans, it caused the bonds to default and Wall Street banks and other investors around the world lost so much money that some went under and the government had to bail them out to save the banking system.
Then, AIG had to pay out $170 billion because of credit default swaps that were triggered when the bonds defaulted, which the U.S. government had to bail out so investors wouldn’t lose all that money.
What a crock of crap that is. The only part of that paragraph that resembles truth is that the U.S. government did in fact bail out AIG. The rest is unadulterated hooey that was started by the banking industry’s PR machine, and something like half the country still believes to be true. And because they do, the people trapped by our deteriorating economy in one way or another, are alone, ashamed and afraid. It’s dividing our country along imaginary lines. And while we blame each other for what securitization started, the bankers get richer and more powerful.
That’s not at all what happened here. What we’re experiencing today in our economy isn’t the result of a real estate bubble popping. Wall Street’s investment banks didn’t come crashing down because some previously hidden class of irresponsible Americans with sub-par credit bought houses they couldn’t afford.
What caused our economy to collapse happened on July 10, 2007, because that was the day that something happened that had never happened before, and what it destroyed remains destroyed to this day. Because of what happened on that day in July of 2007, the U.S. government is the only investor in mortgages in this country, the only lender in the mortgage market, through Fannie and Freddie, now both essentially government agencies.
More than three years later and private securitizations of mortgages are little more than an historical footnote… they are no more. And even Goldman Sachs’ bonds… they’re debt… is still guaranteed by the U.S. government. The banks aren’t healthy, no matter what Tim “Transparency” Geithner wants us to believe. And the toxic assets we were all told were clogging up the balance sheets of our nation’s largest financial institutions are right where they were in the fall of 2008. All because of what happened on July 10, 2007…
The day that Standard & Poors and Moody’s downgraded the ratings on 1,011 bond issues… some were downgraded by several letters of the alphabet. It was LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of the bonds secured by sub-prime mortgages.
Less than one percent of the bonds secured by sub-prime mortgages were downgraded that day. You probably didn’t even notice it, but it started a series of dominoes falling that had been set up to spell out disaster.
Pension fund managers were furious. Their funds had bylaws that prohibited them from investing in anything but triple A rated bonds. If Standard & Poors and Moody’s hand screwed up the ratings on these bonds, what about the trillions of other mortgage-backed securities that institutional investors were holding? What about the bond insurers? Who was vulnerable? Fund managers dumped their bond holdings in the morning, and at fire sale prices. Investors ran for the exit on financial stocks.
Money for sub-prime and Alt-A mortgages evaporated literally overnight.
Within weeks, money for all types of mortgages was scarce and fading fast. Then money for all sorts of credit had left the building, even for debts that had nothing to do with mortgages. Banks began hoarding cash. Within two or three weeks, banks didn’t trust each other enough to lend to each other.
The SIVs that the banks had set up off of their balance sheets had to be refinanced every three to six months, but suddenly no one wanted to invest in them. Banks like Citibank were forced to buy them back, or force their investors to take unthinkable losses.
On August 7th, the Federal Reserve had refused to lower rates. But on August 17th, the Fed hit the panic button and announced a huge expansion of its emergency lending program for banks. Here’s what the Federal Reserve had to say on that August 17th…
Release Date: August 17, 2007
For immediate release
Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward. In these circumstances, although recent data suggest that the economy has continued to expand at a moderate pace, the Federal Open Market Committee judges that the downside risks to growth have increased appreciably. The Committee is monitoring the situation and is prepared to act as needed to mitigate the adverse effects on the economy arising from the disruptions in financial markets.
Did you see anything in there about irresponsible sub-prime borrowers buying houses that were too expensive, or even anything about the housing market at all? No, I guess you didn’t, now did you? And why not read that last line one more time…
(The Federal Reserve) is prepared to act as needed to mitigate the adverse effects on the economy arising from the disruptions in financial markets.)
The world’s biggest bailouts were about to begin.
With no way to get a mortgage, housing prices started to fall, but they didn’t just come down gradually as they would in a normal market correction… they fell of a damn cliff, like in the last scene of the movie Thelma & Louise. With no way to refinance, those that had been sold loans that needed refinancing were doomed. The credit markets were frozen solid. Consumer spending would soon slow, transforming a torrent into a trickle, and unemployment had nowhere to go but up.
The U.S. government might have stepped in to stabilize the financial markets that fall, but by the end of the year, the country had only one question on its mind… which candidate would be the country’s next president. Everything else, including the beginnings of an economic meltdown that would come to resemble that of the 1930s, would have to wait.
What had started growing as a result of securitization, now was a growing feeling of insecuritization. But it wasn’t the borrowers that flipped the switch and turned on the financial chaos channel, it was Wall Street’s bankers.
No one told them to create loans than needed to be refinanced every two or three years, no one forced them to securitize loans into pools with more risk of default than was present in the individual loans themselves. No one got out of bed one morning and said… hey, why not break the bond market so only the government will make loans from now on. And no one said leverage your assets 30 or 40:1. Bankers did all that, baby… not borrowers.
Let my people go… it’s long past time to come together…
Don’t you get it? We’re not going to have any sort of recovery until we stop the foreclosure crisis. And we can’t stop the foreclosure crisis without helping people avoid foreclosure. And we won’t help people avoid foreclosure until politicians know that they won’t get clobbered by their constituents for having done so. And meanwhile, the water just keeps rising higher… and higher.
Life events happen. Illness. Job loss. Divorce. Any of those things happens today and chances are better than excellent that it’s a foreclosure to boot. And those things don’t just happen to other people, they happen to everyone.
The foreclosure crisis is entirely unnecessary at this point. It can be stopped. It’s being allowed to continue and the people are too ashamed to speak out and demand that it be stopped. There are millions of homes sitting vacant… and for what?