Local and Michigan Headlines: Grand Rapids Considering Layoffs because of Budget Cuts; Senate Passes Foreclosure Bill

Here are some interesting stories covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Downtown Grand Rapids Condo Project Faces Foreclosure

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press reported that the Icon on Bond condo project faces foreclosure. The bank that loaned the money for the project says that the father-son development team built the project, Joseph A. and Joseph W. Moch, owe more than $40 million–even after getting tax breaks from the city government.

The Mochs launched the project with hopes back in 2003, saying that it would bring critical a critical development. However, the project has largely failed to deliver and has been a source of controversy for years. According to the Grand Rapids Press, only four of the 118 units have been sold and 50 have been leased.

Back in 2006, the project won tax credits from the city:

Moch International, led by the father-son team of Joseph A. and Joseph W. Moch, won approval for $1.7 million worth of tax credits and rebates to help build a $15.5 million, 171-unit apartment complex at 235 Grandville Ave. SW.

They won these tax breaks even after the Mochs “threatened” to build low-income housing if they didn’t get their way on two previously planned towers:

By an 8-1 vote, the city’s Planning Commission sunk Moch’s request for permission to build two 255-foot-tall towers that would house 398 apartments in the tax-free Renaissance Zone.

Moch said his new project will fit the city’s 165-foot height restrictions for downtown buildings. They will be aimed at low-income residents or “whoever can afford them,” he said. He estimated the new project would be about 17 stories high.

“There will be no doorman, no heated sidewalks,” he told reporters. Parking will meet the city’s minimum requirements and probably cause problems on surrounding streets, he said.

Asked if he would build federally subsidized housing on the land, Moch replied, “We are seriously looking at that.”

According to the article in the Press yesterday, the Mochs are hoping to get out of the deal, “Moch said he’s prepared to hand over the building and resign from the condo association board, if that’s what’s required.”

It’s really too bad the bank won’t just take this building back and give it to the city’s homeless–on the Mochs’ tab of course. It seems like the fair thing to do.

At the very minimum, hopefully the city takes these development projects a little more seriously in the future before awarding them tax breaks.

Headlines: Obama Announces Foreclosure Plan; Israel Pledges to Maintain Gaza Blockade until Capture Soldier Released

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Announces Foreclosure Plan; Israel Pledges to Maintain Gaza Blockade until Capture Soldier Released

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Announces $275 Foreclosure Plan

President Obama has unveiled a $275 billion program to address the national housing crisis. Speaking in Phoenix, Arizona, Obama said the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan could help as many as nine million homeowners avoid foreclosure and reduce mortgage payments.

President Obama: “This plan will not save every home. But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everyone.”

$75 billion would be allotted to help up to four million struggling homeowners by creating incentives for lenders to renegotiate the terms of subprime loans. The plan also promises to help an additional five million households struggling to pay off their mortgages by lifting restrictions on refinancing and by pledging an additional $200 billion dollars for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Court Blocks Release of Uyghur Prisoners

A federal appeals court has blocked the release of seventeen Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The group was previously ordered to be resettled with other Uyghur families in the United States. But a three-judge panel ruled District Judge Ricardo Urbina had erred in ordering their release into the US. The US government has admitted the men have been unlawfully detained but won’t send them back to China where they face persecution. Emi MacLean of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The new administration must act quickly to remedy the failings of the old. If President Obama is committed to closing Guantanamo, he must allow these stranded Uyghurs into the United States.”

Kyrgyz Parliament Votes to Close U.S. Air Base

In Kyrgyzstan, lawmakers have voted to close a key U.S. air base used for the occupation of Afghanistan. Earlier today, the Kyrgyz partliament voted 78 to one in favor of shuttering the Manas Air Base. The base is a transit point for fifteen thousand troops and 500 tons of cargo each month. But it’s become widely unpopular amidst opposition to U.S. foreign policy and controversy over US refusal to pay a higher fee. The US has also refused to revoke the immunity of a US soldier who fatally shot a Kyrgyz truck driver in late 2006. The move comes one day after President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Mckiernan, praised the decision.

General David Mckiernan: “I am very delighted with the President’s decision yesterday to send additional U.S. forces to reinforce our efforts in Afghanistan. I will use most of those forces in the southern part of Afghanistan, an area where we do not have sufficient security presence.”

Trial Delayed for Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

In Iraq, the trial of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush has been delayed until next month. Muntadhar al-Zaidi will stand trial in March on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. He faces fifteen years in prison. Zaidi’s attorney and family have alleged abusive treatment since his imprisonment. On Wednesday, Zaidi was applauded as he entered the courtroom.

Rejecting Prisoner Exchange, Israel Conditions Gaza Blockade on Soldier’s Release

The Israeli government has formalized its stance to condition any easing of the blockade of the entire Gaza Strip on the release a single captured Israeli soldier. On Wednesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel would only consider lifting the humanitarian siege of Gaza if Hamas secures Corporal Gilad Shalit’s release.

Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit: “The security cabinet decided unanimously that Gilad Shalit will be the first demand of Israel before any arrangement with the Egyptian or with the Hamas. We would like to see Gilad back home. Three years have been past and we think that we cannot come to any arrangement with the Hamas or with the Egyptian without solving the problem of Gilad Shalit, we want him back home.”

Shalit was seized in June 2006 from an Israeli military post used to stage attacks on Gaza. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some ten thousand Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons. Hamas spokesperson Fazi Barhoum called the Israeli position a non-starter, and said Hamas remains open to a prisoner swap.

Fazi Barhoum: “We will not accept linking the file of Shalit with the file of the ceasefire. If the Zionist occupier wanted a ceasefire with a breaking of the siege, the opening of the crossings, and stopping of the aggression, then we are ready for that. If they wanted something other than that, then we are open to all possibilities. We don’t oppose releasing Gilad Shalit, but only with the necessity of the responsiveness of the Zionist occupation to comply with our conditions and demands to release our prisoners and the prisoners of the Palestinian people-in accordance with the list and the general theme that the Zionist occupier already knows.”

Jailed Egyptian Opposition Leader Freed After 3 Years

In Egypt, the leading opposition politician Ayman Nour has been freed after more than three years in jail. Nour was jailed shortly he challenged President Hosni Mubarak in nation elections. The release was unexpected as he still had nearly two years left in his sentence.

Ayman Nour: “I say now that I’ve been released without any agreement, without any bargaining, without any deal. This was not offered and if it had been we wouldn’t have accepted. I’m out [of prison] to practice my rights as an Egyptian citizen.”

Greenspan Backs Nationalization of Struggling Banks

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has endorsed the nationalization of struggling U.S. banks. In an interview with the Financial Times, Greenspan said: “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring. I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.” Greenspan’s embrace of neo-liberal policies during his Fed tenure has been criticized for helping to cause today’s financial crisis.

Holder: U.S. a “Nation of Cowards” on Discussing Race

Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for a national dialogue on race. In a speech marking Black History Month, Holder called the U.S. “nation of cowards” for not discussing the history of U.S. racism more openly. Holder is the nation’s first African-American attorney general.

Philip Morris Ordered to Pay $8M to Florida Widow

In Florida, the tobacco giant Philip Morris has been ordered to pay eight million dollars in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer. Elaine Hess’s husband, Stuart Hess, died in 1997 at the age of 55. Phillip Morris faces some 8,000 similar lawsuits in Florida alone. The company says it plans to appeal.

3rd Trial Begins for Miami Terror Suspects

In Miami, federal prosecutors have launched their third attempt to convict six men accused of plotting to destroy FBI buildings and Chicago’s Sears Tower. The two previous trials ended in a deadlocked jury.

U.S. to Deport 30,000 Haitians

In other news from Miami, activists have called a protest for Saturday over U.S. government plans to deport some 30,000 Haitians. Earlier this year the Bush administration rejected a Haitian request to delay the deportations until Haiti recovers from a string of deadly summer storms.

N.Y.U. Students Occupy School Cafeteria

Here in New York, several dozen student activists have barricaded themselves inside a cafeteria at New York University. The group Take Back N.Y.U. has submitted several demands, including the establishment of socially-responsible committee, a full disclosure of the school’s annual budget and support for Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.

Student: “The first two orders of the socially responsible finance committee will be: An in-depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine.”

Family Sues Yale, Student Group Over Geronimo Remains

The family of 19th century Apache Indian warrior Geronimo has filed a lawsuit seeking to recover his remains. The suit names the U.S. government, Yale University and the Yale student society the Skull and Bones. According to legend, Skull and Bones members–including former President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush –dug up Geronimo’s remains from his burial plot in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

UBS to Disclose Americans Holding Offshore Accounts

The Swiss banking giant UBS has agreed to release the names of wealthy American account holders believed to be using offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. The agreement came as part of a $780 million dollar fraud settlement with the IRS. Prosecutors say UBS helped wealthy American clients hide at least one point five billion dollars in taxes from 2002 to 2007.

Sudanese Novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh Dies at 80

And the Sudanese novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh has died at the age of 80. He was considered one of the Arab world’s top novelists, with books including the 1966 classic “The Season of Migration to the North.”

Foreclosures Increased in Grand Rapids and Kent County over First Half of 2008

Foreclosures increased dramatically over 2007 levels in the first half of 2008 for Grand Rapids and Kent County.


Foreclosures continued to increase in Grand Rapids and Kent County over the first half of 2008 according to data released last week by the Community Research Institute.

The numbers–released as an update to the study “Sold Short: Residential Foreclosures in Kent County, 2004 to 2007“–show that foreclosures were up 38.2% in Grand Rapids from January 1 through June 30 of this year. Foreclosures increased 28.7% over the same period in Kent County.


In Grand Rapids, foreclosures increased in 23 out of 32 neighborhoods. The highest overall foreclosure rates in the city are on the southeast and west sides of town.

The Community Research Institute writes:

“The fact that the rates continue to increase or remain high is a sign that the foreclosure crisis remains a systemic problem in our local communities and one that will continue to require a coordinated systems response from local government, nonprofit organizations, foundations, neighborhood associations, and financial institutions.”

WZZM asks Viewers to Sympathize with Banks Dealing with Foreclosed Homes

A recent WZZM 13 story on foreclosures in Grand Rapid made it seem like banks and realtors are the only ones suffering from the foreclosure crisis–not the families that lose their homes.


On Sunday, WZZM 13 reported on the latest foreclosure numbers from Grand Rapids realtors. However, rather than looking at how foreclosure is impacting families, the channel primarily looked at how foreclosures are making it difficult for banks and realtors.

WZZM reports that banks are a hard time selling foreclosed homes because there are so many on the market. That is creating a situation where buyers can purchase homes for less than what they are worth:

“‘Never before and probably never again will there be such a great opportunity for buyers,’ says realtor Sue Prins.

Prins says unlike many homes in the past, today, homes in foreclosure or short sale are well-maintained.

“It’s not what you may think for a short-sale or foreclosure, some people have that misconception,” she says.

That means home buyers like Josh and Courntey VerVoort have a real advantage.

‘We don’t really know what we’re looking for until we walk in and get that ‘wow’ feeling,’ Josh says.”

Of course, the story is largely silent on the fact that those deals come at the expense of others being forced out of their homes. They mention this only briefly and somewhat dismissively:

“‘It’s stressful, it’s hard, it’s disappointing,’ says Prins. ‘I sit across from people sometimes very tearful over this situation.’

Others though can get tears of joy, as they’re about to get a great deal.”

For those facing foreclosure–and for those of us who care about the community around us–foreclosure is a serious issue and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The local nonprofit organization Home Repair Services offers help for people facing foreclosure. The local ACORN chapter has also been active on the issue . A coalition of groups–including the aforementioned two–have also formed under the name Foreclosure Response to offer assistance to the community.

Maybe in the future WZZM 13 can report on the work that those groups do, rather than trying to make us to feel sorry for the banks.