Aaron Glantz is a master of the art of investigative journalism. He’s won two Peabody awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book, Homewreckers, is a scorching examination of the greed that crashed the American economy in 2008 and robbed millions of people of the cornerstone of their wealth: their homes. Glantz anchors Homewreckers in personal stories of people who battled to stay in their homes, but he is masterful at connecting these individual stories to the larger story and to the history of housing in America. Glantz accomplishes the latter by contrasting the government’s response to the Great Depression with its response to the crash of 2008.
Although marred by racial discrimination, the primary intent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration was to keep people in their homes and to promote home ownership, so the government became a lender, guaranteeing mortgages and covering any losses. Fast-forward to 2008, and the response from successive administrations is radically different. First, George W. Bush and then Barack Obama rushed to rescue banks that had gambled and lost on risky mortgage-backed securities. Because neither administration wanted thousands of foreclosed homes on the government’s books, they were very receptive when investor groups led by the likes of Steve Mnuchin, Tom Barrack, Wilbur Ross, and Stephen Schwarzman offered to buy the properties, for a song, of course, and with generous terms that essentially guaranteed they could not lose a dime. Homeowners facing foreclosure received no such largesse. At its core, Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream is about financial capitalism and the transformation of the venerable single-family home from a necessity to a commodity and speculative asset. “If rigged housing policies have created our wealth gap,” Glantz writes, “perhaps it is time to rig them back in the other direction.”