Trillions of words have been written about the housing, mortgage and foreclosure crisis. But perhaps it’s not too late for me to add another commentary to the collection. It’s important to speak out because there is one word that still needs to be said, and that is "shonda."
If I had to sum up the crisis in just one word, shonda would be my top choice. It’s a Yiddish word, which isn’t all that surprising since Yiddish is an exceptionally expressive language that has contributed a wealth of other barely translatable words to the English language. We’d all be bereft were it not for such beauties as chutzpah, glitch, klutz, nosh, schlep, schmooze, spiel and shtick, to offer just a few examples.
My friend Steve Lipman, who has a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, tells me that shonda means "a criminal shame or something that brings (or should bring) great embarrassment to someone or the community." And he offers this apt example: The way the financial crisis was managed was a complete shonda.
I believe his assessment is correct. Regardless of how the crisis happened or who’s to blame, there should be no debate that it’s an outstanding example of a shonda.
It’s a shonda that lenders originated so many bad loans, regulators fell asleep on the job, and investors didn’t consider the real risks of mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps — and it’s a shonda that so many homeowners have lost or will lose their homes. Could anything, short of a death or major illness, be worse than that?
Well, yes, what could be worse than the loss of one’s home would be being a victim of a foreclosure rescue scam. Not surprisingly, the incidence of such scams has risen along with the overall increase in foreclosures. The situation is so serious that multiple federal and state government law enforcement agencies recently announced a major effort to beef up investigations and prosecutions of these crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission has taken action against at least eight companies and sent warning letter to dozens of others, yet that is obviously only the tip of the proverbial iceberg insofar as foreclosure rescue scams are concerned. Drive around any hard-hit residential neighborhood and count the bandit signs that promise to "Stop Foreclosure" or "Save Your Home," and I think you’ll agree that that these frauds and the lack of enforcement to date are truly a shonda of gigantic proportions.
It’s easy to point the finger at hapless homeowners and suggest they’ve only been the victims of their own greed, foolishness, desperation, bad luck or ignorance. And it’s easy to argue that their problems have been self-inflicted. They shouldn’t have bought a home they couldn’t afford. They shouldn’t have borrowed more than they could repay. They shouldn’t have refinanced and tapped out their equity. They shouldn’t have overpaid for their home. They should have read the fine print. They should have saved more and made smarter investments. And while we’re at it, they should have quit smoking, exercised more and won the lottery too.
But regardless of what homeowners did or didn’t do or should or shouldn’t have done — and we can all make our own lists — what has happened and what is still happening to the homeowners in our communities is a crying shonda. We are all to blame, and we should all feel ashamed because these homeowners aren’t someone else’s responsibility. They are our family, our friends and our neighbors.
There are plenty of "if onlys" that might have prevented this crisis, but I’d have to add one more to the list: If only more of us had had the courage to speak up sooner and call a shonda a shonda.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate websites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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