President Barack Obama's tour of an east Las Vegas neighborhood on Monday to promote new ways to stem the home foreclosure crisis delighted some residents while dismaying others who won't be helped.
The president got rock star treatment on La Placita Avenue when he pulled up at midday in his limo with a Secret Service entourage. Dozens of residents cheered his arrival and shook his hand.
Jose and Lissette Bonilla, a Hispanic couple Obama spoke with in their home, told the president they were grateful for his Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It fixed up the house they bought for $95,000 and helped them make the down payment as well. Lissette Bonilla told Obama her three children now have their own bedrooms after the family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment.
"I'm so honored to have the president here," she said in an interview. "This is something you can't even dream of, something you never expect -- to have the president of the United States come to your home to see us."
The tour of the working-class neighborhood was the second stop of the president's three-hour visit to Las Vegas. The first was the Bellagio resort, where he spoke to about 300 campaign donors at a luncheon. At both, the president insisted "we can't wait" for Congress to support his efforts to create jobs and help Americans.
Yet some residents of the neighborhood of tan stucco houses grumbled the president still had not done enough for Nevadans, who are suffering the worst home foreclosure rate in the nation and the highest unemployment rate of 13.4 percent statewide.
These skeptics are just the voters Obama needs to win re-election in 2012, by convincing them he is doing all he can to help the country recover despite Republicans in Congress who oppose him.
An angry Eddie Eder didn't stick around to hear Obama speak to his neighbors, who stood behind metal barriers on a street blocked off for security. Eder said he had been out of work for three years, laid off from his job of excavating pools for homes. His wife works in an office, earning enough to support their two children but too much for Eder to qualify for extended unemployment insurance.
"If they're not building homes, they're not building pools," Eder said. "I just don't see the new jobs. They need to do something. They need to fix it. I don't know how. I'm just disgusted."
His wife, Amanda Hulsizer, said her husband was frustrated, but she is giving Obama more time to turn around the dismal economy that he inherited from the Bush administration when he took office.
"I don't blame Obama," Hulsizer said. "They say it takes four years to undo what the previous president did. If he can do what he says, and I hope he will, then things may be better."
Hulsizer said she doesn't know whether any of Obama's housing programs will help her family go from renters to first-time owners. She said the family hopes to buy a home, but until then pays $1,000 a month rent for a three-bedroom place while nearby owners with low-interest mortgages pay $700 a month.
"It may be good for them, but it doesn't help us," Hulsizer said.
Help for homeowners
The Bonillas bought their two-story house in June with a low-interest loan of 3.5 percent, according to public records. They did it with help from Housing for Nevada, which works with the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.
The previous owners weren't so lucky. Their home had been foreclosed on in 2010 after the value dropped more than half of its original $215,967 in 2004. It's the same story for every home in the area, where 75 percent are occupied by the owners. One of every 10 homes was empty at the time of the U.S. c ensus in April 2010, and some still have foreclosure signs on them.
According to the census, the neighborhood is 47 percent Hispanic, a group of voters Obama needs to win Nevada, where the population is 26 percent Latino. He won election here in 2008 by 12 percentage points, thanks in part to backing from 74 percent of Hispanic voters.
Obama used the neighborhood as a backdrop to announce expanding a U.S. program to help people stay in their homes. He said the updated federal aid program would allow more homeowners who are "underwater" on mortgages and have kept up their payments to refinance at today's low interest rates -- no matter how far the value of their homes has fallen.
"Here in Las Vegas, the city hit hardest of all, almost the entire housing market is under severe stress," Obama said in a 12-minute speech outside the homes near Sahara Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. "It's a painful burden for middle-class families. And it's a drag on our economy."
In Southern Nevada, he said houses have lost an average 50 percent of their value in the past few years after the housing bubble burst. That compares with 17 percent nationwide, he said. As a result, Americans can't pay their bills and can't buy things they want and need.
"When a home loses its value, a family loses a big chunk of its wealth," he said. "Paying off mortgage debt means consumers spend less, businesses make less and jobs are harder to come by. And as long as this goes on, our recovery can't take off as quickly as it would after a normal recession."
Under the revamped housing aid, borrowers in Nevada, California and Florida -- the hardest-hit states -- would benefit the most. Previously, refinancing aid was available only to homeowners owing no more than 125 percent of their property's value. So deeply underwater homeowners were ineligible.
The overhaul of the 2-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program, HARP, would reduce the number of homeowners required to pay for appraisals during the refinance process and cut the cost of title insurance and lien processing among other closing items.
The Obama administration, by revamping the program, hopes up to 1 million more homeowners might qualify to convert their mortgages to take advantage of low rates. Until now, the program hasn't performed well. The administration had estimated HARP would help 4 million to 5 million homeowners, but 900,000 have refinanced, including just 72,000 who were underwater on their loans.
Plan under fire
Only mortgages held by the federally backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be eligible for aid, which could limit its effectiveness in Nevada, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said
"There aren't that many loans in Nevada that are Fannie or Freddie held," he said.
According to the Clark County assessor's office, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own 3,782 properties in Southern Nevada, out of 631,783 residences.
Still, Heck said he favored broadening the refinancing option to homeowners who are deeply underwater and planned to support the Obama initiative to make a dent in Nevada foreclosures.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised Obama and took a shot at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said last week foreclosures should run their course in a free-market environment.
"Instead of telling Nevada homeowners they're on their own, President Obama is showing real leadership by taking action to help keep thousands of Nevada families in their homes," Reid said.
Obama's first visit to Las Vegas in a year was greeted with derision by Republicans.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee released an Internet video attacking his "disastrous failed policies" that it said contributed to the slumping economy. A favorite target is the $787 billion stimulus, which didn't lower unemployment to 8 percent as promised.
"This is nothing but a rehash of the same failed policies he shoved down the throat of Americans a year and a half ago," said Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman.
Outside the neighborhood, a dozen protesters stood watch as Obama's caravan drove by. Billed as a "jobs rally" by the Nevada Republican Party, it seemed mostly to be a group of conservatives who said they disagreed with Obama's policies.
Robert Zavala, 42, who described himself as Latino, said he believes the president is telling people what they want to hear simply to get votes.
"He can't win another election," he said. "The country, where it's headed, he's going to destroy it."
Obama pushes back
Faced with GOP opposition in Washington, Obama took a new tack in pushing back against Congress. He said he would use more executive orders to get around Capitol Hill. He urged Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill, which he said also could kick-start Project Rebuild programs to fix up abandoned and vacant homes for resale in high-foreclosure neighborhoods.
"If Congress passes the jobs bill, we can get Project Rebuild moving right away," Obama said. "If Congress acts, folks in Nevada and across the country will get significant relief.
"But we can't just wait for Congress to act," he added. "Until they do, we're going to act on our own. Because we can't wait for Congress to help our families and our economy."
Obama's tour of Nevada was part of a trip through the West, including visits to California and Colorado, another swing state that could help decide the 2012 presidential race.
Before visiting the Las Vegas neighborhood, Obama addressed a fundraising lunch at Bellagio on the Strip. Tickets ranged from $1,000 to the legal limit of $35,800 for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint account of the Democratic National Committee and Obama for America.
"I'm here because the country needs your help," Obama told the crowd, casting his re-election as the best hope for getting the nation back on track instead of moving backward.
"I have no doubt that not only will we win this election, but more importantly, we're going to win the future."
Obama got two standing ovations at Bellagio, one for ending the war in Iraq and one from about half the crowd for ending "don't ask, d on't t ell" so homosexuals can serve openly in the military.
On a sunny, hot day, Air Force One touched down at 11:57 a.m. at McCarran International Airport, and the president was wheels up and on his way to California by 3:15 p.m.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was the only official on the tarmac to greet the president. She gave him a commemorative poker chip and asked him to speak favorably about Las Vegas to encourage people to come here. He once took a lot of heat for saying that in tight economic times people shouldn't waste money by coming here, including for conventions the city relies on to help pay the bills.
"I hope that he's going to do beautifully for us in the future and talk about Las Vegas as a great place to visit and have conventions come," Goodman told reporters. "I told him, in Nevada, we know you love it here. You come back again and again, but you need to tell the world how wonderful we are here."
At the fundraiser, the president talked up the city as promised. "I love coming to Vegas," he said. "The only people who love coming more is my staff."
Review-Journal writers Kristi Jourdan, Richard Lake and Stephens Media Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.