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Obama Showcases Unseen Side of Subprime Crisis

By Jonathan Weisman
LAKELAND, Fla. -- In their travels throughout the country, presidential candidates of both parties have heard their share of heartbreaking stories -- working families facing foreclosure, mother working three jobs to pay children's health care bills and wounded Iraq war veterans struggling with the Veterans Administration.

But Sen. Barack Obama's visit here to PJ's Dream Home Center, which sells mobile homes, featured some unusual object of sympathy even as it sought to cast Florida's dramatic housing downturn into sharp relief.

Arrayed around a table in a model double-wide mobile home, Obama sat down with a laid-off subprime mortgage peddler, shut down by federal regulators; the home center's general manager, who was angry about a housing law Obama supported; and a recent college graduate unable to divorce her husband because she cannot sell her house.

"We had loans that I know are going to shock a lot of you," Marybell Malave said of her old employer, Fremont Investments, which was ordered to cease and desist by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "We were in the subprime industry, and they knew we would have some losses, but we were in a housing boom."

After Malave lost her subprime lending job, along with 5,000 others in the business around Tampa, she said she helped out her husband, PJ's general manager Chris Trevino, when he needed a proficient Spanish speaker.

Trevino, for his part, spoke bitterly of a provision of the sweeping new home rescue law, which ends the federal government practice of granting of easy downpayments to poor home buyers.

PJ's, where prefab homes sell for between $55,000 and $75,000, used to sell a house a day, he said. Now, it moves two a month.

"Poor people need downpayment assistance," Trevino told Obama.

Obama's Florida campaign spokesman, Mark Bubriski, said the selection of speakers "was unfiltered."

"We intentionally wanted someone in the mortgage business, and to find someone like that not in the subprime mortgage business in Central Florida is not that easy," he said.

The senator from Illinois gamely confessed that he backed most aspects of the new law and told Trevino the federal government can't be in the business of getting people into homes they cannot afford.

By Web Politics Editor  |  August 1, 2008; 4:47 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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