Not one more eviction

October 22, 2010

Activism recently pressured Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to put a stop to some evictions. Now it's time to struggle for a moratorium on all of them.

ON OCTOBER 14, members of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC), in an act of protest and street theater, presented Cook County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Tom Dart, with a six-foot-tall "five-day notice."

A five-day notice is a court order given to tenants that declares they have five days to pay their rent or risk being taken to eviction court. The CAEC's five-day notice gave Dart five days to "halt...the dozens of evictions processed by his office each day."

Approximately 100 evictions are carried out in Cook County each day. Moreover, there has been an almost 70 percent increase in the number of foreclosure filings in the county. Thirty percent of all foreclosures are on non-owner occupied property--meaning they are rental property. In fact, the impact of foreclosures on tenants prompted Dart to levy a moratorium on evictions for two weeks in 2008.

News stories uncovered how landlords who were in foreclosure and on the brink of losing their property neglected to tell their tenants while they were still collecting rent. Renters were coming home to find their belongings piled on the sidewalk, having no idea that their landlords had been using them like ATM machines.

Dart said then:

These mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don't care who's in the building...They simply want their money and don't care who gets hurt along the way. On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them. We're not going to do their jobs for them anymore. We're just not going to evict innocent tenants.

The CAEC's argument to Dart's office was, in part: If this logic made sense in 2008, then why not today? After all, three of the largest mortgage lenders--GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America--imposed foreclosure moratoriums on themselves because of their corrupt practice of illegally notarizing foreclosure documents without actually reading them to verify the facts.

Dart's office told CAEC activists that his job was to uphold the law. But to everyone's surprise, before the CAEC's notice expired on October 18, Dart's office announced that it would not follow through on evictions based on foreclosures from GMAC, JPMorgan and Bank of America--unless the paperwork is intact.

Together, those banks account for a third of all foreclosures in Cook County. This will come as welcome relief for thousands of people in the foreclosure process across the county, and is something the gutless Obama administration should pay attention to.

When Obama consultant David Axelrod was asked about the possibility of a national moratorium on foreclosures because of the wanton corruption in the process, Axelrod scoffed, "I'm not sure about a national moratorium because there are in fact valid foreclosures that probably should go forward."

In fact, it's highly debatable whether any of these foreclosures are "valid."

THREE BANKS are at the center of the foreclosure controversy and have been forced to declare temporary moratoriums--though Bank of America recently declared its moratorium over in most states. But all of the banks and mortgage lenders are guilty of filling up the housing bubble with hot air and pushing corrupt loans that inevitably would force people into default.

Over the last decade in particular, the housing market has been marked by corruption, deceit and fraud, and every lender was in on the sham. The crisis was accelerated when the economy collapsed and unemployment went on the rise. Not only were people saddled with mortgages that would be difficult to pay in good times, but now growing numbers of people were thrown into joblessness.

In Chicago, it has been particularly devastating--especially in African American and Latino communities. According to the Chicago Reporter, Chicago's Black communities led the nation in receiving sub-prime home loans over the last decade. A Black person with a six-figure income was more likely to be steered toward a sub-prime loan than a white person making $35,000 a year.

In total, Blacks and Latinos were 50 percent more likely to receive a sub-prime loan locally. Thus, in 2008, 65 percent of all foreclosures in Chicago were in Black and Latino communities.

But the crisis in housing is not just among homeowners, but also among those who rent in both public and private housing as well. Since 2005, there has been a 15,000 increase in the number of filings for evictions, bringing the total up to 50,000 filings last year.

Chicago is one of the more expensive cities in the country to rent in because of low wages and high unemployment. More than 30 percent of all renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing. The U.S. government considers that if you pay more than 30 percent of your income on housing, then your housing is unaffordable.

For these reasons, we don't think that Tom Dart goes far enough in his call for a moratorium on some evictions. The CAEC began a campaign at the end of September to declare a moratorium on all economically motivated evictions across Chicago.

We believe that housing is a human right and that people should not be thrown onto the streets because they lost their job, they were tricked into a predatory home loan or simply because they can't afford the rent. There is more than 11 percent unemployment across Chicago with no apparent end in sight. In African American communities, the levels of unemployment are unprecedented, with almost 50 percent of able-bodied Black men unable to find work.

It's neither utopian nor unprecedented to call for a moratorium on evictions under these circumstances. Past struggles, like in the 1930s, have shown that an organized resistance has the potential to stop the landlords and the police from evicting poor and working-class families. Activists today can take a page from the determination of the anti-eviction activists of the past--and demand that not one person should suffer eviction and homelessness.

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