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by Jeff Reinhardt, 31 July 2008, Boston IMC

Amidst the soaring cost of living and a national foreclosure crisis across the country, some residents in Boston are sticking up for their right to housing and to keep properties out of the banks’ hands. On Tuesday July 15, supporters for Roxbury resident Paula Taylor came together to stop the bank from evicting her and repossessing her house, in a technique called an “eviction blockade.” The action was successful and Taylor retained the right to live in her house.
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Eviction Blockade at the Griffiths-Evans Family Home, Dorchester Jan 23rd, 2008. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.

The blockade was comprised of a crowd of over 60 people, including several who decided to lock themselves to the doorways. The crowd chanted and listening to speeches from City Councilor Chuck Turner as well as Steve Meacham, a tenant organizing coordinator from City Life/Vida Urbana.

While Taylor’s condo is still foreclosed, the bank has not claimed ownership of the house yet. Countrywide Financial, which has recently been purchased by Bank of America, agreed to give her another 30 days in her condo, and to meet with her. Taylor originally bought a subprime mortgage from Countrywide Financial. These mortgages have been at the forefront of the country’s lending crisis.

“Either someone will buy who wants a tenant, or, if someone who buys the home wants to move in, I will move out without a fight,” said Taylor in a statement made prior to the blockade. “But I am taking stand based on principle that I will not move out without a fight as long as the bank owns the property.”

“Their [the banks’] accumulation of property is growing week by week,” said Meacham. Once the bank leaves the property vacant, it is open for looting, as many people will strip the house of its copper wire and pipe for easy money. It also brings other property values in the neighborhood down with it.

“This is clearly a case where the bank doesn’t care what happens to a neighborhood,” said Jim Brooks, an activist with City Life/Vida Urbana, who chained himself to the front steps long before most of the protesters showed up. “We need to preserve this community.”

Once it was clear that the bank would not show, the crowd responded with jubilation as the activists who locked themselves to the structure took off their chains. “The banks are so vulnerable now,” said Brooks. “They can’t afford the bad press, so they decided not to show up.”

City Life/Vida Urbana, a non-profit tenants rights association in Jamaica Plain, organized the blockade, as well as others this year in Dorchester and Roxbury. Since last September, eviction blockades like this one have been consistently successful in deterring the banks from repossessing housing and evicting residents. CLVU has been at the forefront of organizing with tenants and homeowners across Boston who are resisting evictions.

They have also helped influence politics at City Hall. On May 16, the City Council passed a bill for Just Cause Eviction Protection, sponsored by Chuck Turner, by a margin of 13-0. The bill was designed mainly to help renters whose landlords are being foreclosed by the bank. It gives these renters the ability to stay in their homes until the bank sells the property to a new owner, who can decide if they want new tenants or not. If no new owner is found, the tenants are allowed to stay in their homes for two years, and possibly longer upon mediation with City Hall. It also requires that the tenants be notified of the foreclosure, so they don’t continue to write rent checks to the old owner, which has happened often in Boston.

“Without a doubt, I think our actions helped to get that vote,” said Meacham after the blockade concluded Tuesday.

The recent rise in foreclosures is due to bad lending practices. So-called “subprime” mortgages, are risky deals made with high interest rates and lots of hidden charges and fees. Many people sign these loans without a full understanding of the consequences, but the banks have been equally dubious, since they often target people with bad credit histories and who probably are apt to take the loan. This has led many analysts to describe these loans as “predatory.”

As our country is nearing a large recession and foreclosures are on the rise, it is becoming more important for communities to empower themselves and fight back. While the federal government is more than willing to bail out big lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it is clear that they are not so enthusiastic about helping the people who actually lose their homes, and whose communities are torn apart. Solutions must come from local resources, and this is something that is well understood by the folks at CLVU and more and more by the members of Boston City Council.

Ultimately, it was the supporters at Taylor’s house on Tuesday that helped her keep her home. Future blockades are sure to happen, and any and all who want to stand up for tenant’s rights and preserve communities in Boston should show up. For information about future blockades contact City Life/Vida Urbana and visit their website at clvu.mayfirst.org.

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