Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Open Letter to Kaye Kory


Dear Representative Kory:

Hi there!  Our neighborhood association recently circulated one of your emails, one in which you highlighted all of your legislative accomplishments over the course of the last year.  It was a good, solid list, one that generally represented your moderate/progressive record.  Education, transportation, and the environment are clearly important to you.

At the end of the letter, you invited feedback/responses/input, which is why I felt the urge to pitch you this little missive.  I'm sharing it with my small blog audience, too, as much as I struggle with the "open letter" as a tired and hackneyed net-theme.

My interest, as a progressive and a pastor, is the spread of title-lending companies in your district.  I've lived in this area for nearly forty years, and watched as Northern Virginia has grown and changed.  It's only within the last five years that title-lenders have started becoming a significant presence.  There are now four active title-lenders in the center of Annandale alone, and this is not a positive development for Northern Virginia.  It is a mark of blight.


Because these are predatory businesses.  There is no other way to accurately describe what they do.  They exist to lend desperate people money at outrageous rates, meaning annual percentage rates that are close to ten times what you'd pay on credit card debt.

The owners of these highly profitable "businesses" will argue that they're just meeting a need in the community.  This isn't true.  Like their payday-lending cousins, they are preying on the struggling and the weakest, with a "business model" that traps the vulnerable into an often inescapable cycle of debt.  Unable to pay interest exceeding 300% APR, these individuals lose their vehicles to title-lenders, a loss which drives them further into a cycle of poverty.

I'd encourage you to read this report from the Center for Responsible Lending, which details the impact of these "businesses."  Or this article at Bankrate dot com, which steers citizens away from these businesses.  Or this investigative piece from CNN.

But this is about more than just data.  As a pastor, I know the people who are impacted.  These "businesses" destroy lives.

I bring this to your attention...and to the attention of any Virginia progressives who might read this blog...because the rise of title lenders has been significantly supported by Virginia Democrats.  A review of the legislative history of the growth of these businesses shows that they have a powerful champion in your friend and Democratic colleague Senator Dick Saslaw, who within the last several years has sponsored legislation to allow title-lenders to lend on out-of-state titles.

You voted in favor of that legislation, Kaye.  

As a progressive pastor, let me tell you what your vote did.  It took a car away from a young addict who was struggling to pull their life back together.  It drove a recovering ex-con into a debt cycle that compromised his ability to pay child support.  These aren't canned anecdotes or hypotheticals.  These are people I personally know and pray for.

Not all Democrats have given legislative aid and comfort to these businesses.  Those who represent communities where the malignant presence of title-lenders has been felt...particularly African American Democrats in Norfolk and some of the progressives in Northern Virginia...have voted against the legislation that the Democratic leadership in the Senate has sponsored.  To be fairly nonpartisan, some of those who vote against the spread of these businesses are conservatives, who find their abuse of the poor to be against biblical values.

I realize that you generally champion progressive causes.  Your support of this "industry" seems out of keeping with the rest of your record.

So my question to you is simple: what are you, as my progressive state representative, going to do to defend the vulnerable from these predators?

Peace and Blessings,

Rev. David Williams