Calif. housing activists protest Mnuchin confirmation

Community activists protest the nomination of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary outside the Goldman Sachs offices in Century City, and later, Mnuchin's Bel Air home.
Community activists protest the nomination of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary outside the Goldman Sachs offices in Century City, and later, Mnuchin's Bel Air home. Josie Huang/KPCC

As senators grill Steven Mnuchin over his qualifications for Treasury Secretary, the former banker sits in the hot seat in California over his foreclosure record.

Several dozen protesters, led by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, rallied outside Mnuchin's mansion in Bel Air Wednesday night, chanting and brandishing signs like "Drain Trump's Swamp." 

Earlier in the day, they rallied outside the Century City offices of Goldman Sachs, where Mnuchin worked for 17 years.

Protestors acknowledged that Mnuchin was no doubt in Washington D.C. for his confirmation hearing. Nonetheless, they said, they wanted to send a message, staying outside his house for about a half hour before rain and police arrived.

Mnuchin "was the king of foreclosures. He did so many," said Peggy Mears of Fontana.

Mnunchin ran Pasadena-based OneWest Bank in the years after the housing crisis. At that time the bank foreclosed on more than 36,000 homeowners, according to housing advocates.

Mears said she was almost foreclosed on by OneWest in 2011 but got help through ACCE, where she now works.  

"(OneWest) made the modification process so hard," Mears said. "They would have you send in things, you send it to them and they say we didn’t receive it. They tried to beat you down and wear you out to the point, you say forget it, I don’t want to fight."

Protestors lugged furniture to the rallies  — a nightstand, air mattress, lamp and chairs — all meant to evoke the memories of thousands of people who lost their homes.  

One of them, Patrick Smith, said his problems were with Bank of America, but that Mnuchin represented a tradition of Wall Street insiders looking out for the wealthy and corporate interests.

"Having (Mnuchin) be Secretary of Treasury is like having the fox guard the chicken coop," Smith said. "No way is he going to look out for the best interest of us, the working-class people."

Mears said she was under no illusion that the protests would actually stop Mnuchin’s appointment.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats asked Mnuchin many questions about the foreclosure claims. Mnuchin defended the practices at OneWest.

"I am proud to be able to say our bank was able to do 10,000 loan modifications that allowed people the opportunity to stay in their homes," he said during the hearing. "Unfortunately, not all the homes were able to be saved through these programs, and despite my best efforts, some were sadly subject to foreclosure."

OneWest is also accused of avoiding making loans to minority customers during the time Mnuchin ran the bank.

A couple California housing advocacy groups have filed a complaint with the federal housing department about OneWest, saying the bank violated the Fair Housing Act. A HUD spokesman said Wednesday that the department is still reviewing whether they’re going to take the complaint on.  

A spokesman for Mnuchin did not return calls to respond to allegations against him.

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