Building the struggle for housing and jobs

February 16, 2011

Families, teachers, activists and union organizers are joining together to spotlight the twin crises of jobs and housing in Chicago, reports Rory Fanning.

CHICAGO--Nearly 100 people packed a union hall for a February 10 community outreach forum titled "The War at Home: Fighting for Jobs and Housing in Chicago" to address the twin crises of foreclosures and unemployment facing Chicago's workers.

Among the panelists was Gloria Harris, who received a notice in the mail a few months ago that her house was being foreclosed on. She was stunned to learn that the bank foreclosing on her was not Wells Fargo, the bank that had been cashing her checks, but Deutsche Bank.

Wells Fargo had sold Gloria a predatory loan in 2007. Her loan adjusted and her payment skyrocketed. In spite of much negotiation and run-around, Wells Fargo finally agreed to a modification that Gloria then paid on time for almost a year.

Then came the notice from Deutsche Bank. "Apparently, Deutsche Bank bought my loan without me knowing about it," she explained. "Now why would Wells Fargo keep cashing my checks if it wasn't their loan? These banks are trying to steal my home. My husband and I did everything we were supposed to do...

What you can do

For information about how to get involved in fighting against evictions and foreclosure, check out the Web site of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.

"We are not just gong to let these criminals get away with it. We, along with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, are going to stand and fight!" The crowed erupted in applause.

Others on the panel included representatives from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), Jobs with Justice, Residents United to Save Housing (RUSH) and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. The event had an impressive list of endorsers, including Bridgeport Unemployed Action Center, South Austin Community Coalition Council, A Movement Re-Imagining Change, Chicago Committee Against War and Racism, International Socialist Organization, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Chapter of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, News and Letters Committee, Moratorium on Deportations Committee, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Solidarity, Chicago Political Economy Group Chicago and Teachers For Social Justice.

"We have a united purpose here tonight," said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, moderator of the event and a Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign member. "We are here to let the banks and the politicians know that we will not be divided any longer. We know that evictions in public housing are directly tied to foreclosures...We know this needs to be a joint struggle that unites all neighborhoods that are dealing with job loss and economically motivated evictions."

Panelist Jorge Oritz and his family have also been targeted by the sub-prime mortgage scam. "We will either stay and pay, or stay and not pay, it's the banks choice!" said Oritz, who is also a Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign member.

"Paying our mortgage on time is contingent upon us having jobs," said Susan Hurley, executive director of Jobs with Justice. "We need fair and just employment opportunities if we’re going to pay these mortgages and rents."

MEMBERS OF CORE, the rank-and-file caucus that successfully displaced the old-guard leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union in a recent election, explained how they were fired and soon lost their homes only a few years before they were scheduled to retire from the Chicago Public School system.

"The bottom line is I got too old and too expensive," Bob told the crowd. "A younger, less qualified and cheaper librarian replaced me...I am 67 years old, with no job prospects, and am living in a rented room that I need to duct tape at night to keep out the draft. If I collected on my pension right now, I would receive $700 a month--hardly enough to live on. By firing me when they did, CPS avoided having to pay my full pension."

Henry Warfield, a member of RUSH and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, issued the crowd a call to action. "We need to get out there and tell our friends, family and neighbors who are facing eviction from public housing and foreclosure that they are not alone, that each and everyone one of us stands with them," said Warfield. "Canvassing our neighborhoods and letting people know about organizations like the Anti-Eviction campaign is one of the most important things we can do right now."

Many of the audience members held back tears as the final speaker of the evening, 17- year-old Yessinia Tellez, rose to tell of her personal experience with foreclosure. Yessinia herself choked back tears as she asked the audience: "Do these bank chairmen know they are hurting kids? Do they know how scary it is to constantly wonder what is going to happen to your house and family? Kids should not have to go through this."

When the panelists finished and the discussion began, nearly everyone who spoke had their own stories of eviction and job-loss to tell the audience.

"I too am going through foreclosure, I too have been fired from my job as a Chicago Public School teacher," said one audience member. "I too know what it is like to be scared. But I'll tell you, I don't feel afraid standing in this room seeing all of these groups come together. I feel empowered by what I’m seeing here tonight. As we are seeing in Egypt, collective action works. If we can stick together, organize and all agree to stay in our homes, regardless of what these crooks try and tell us, we will win this fight and take back what is rightfully ours!"

At the forum, the people, the faces and the stories behind the 400 foreclosures and evictions in Cook County each day showed that they are more than just numbers. They are politically conscious members of communities, who understand not only their own situation but also the systemic roots of this economic downturn. They know that capitalism is taking out its crisis on them. And they refuse to allow the cycle of abuse to be perpetuated any longer.

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