Activist takes back her home

May 11, 2011

Chelsea Miller reports on a recent victory for anti-eviction activists in Rochester, N.Y.

ROCHESTER, N.Y., community members and anti-eviction activists in Take Back the Land gathered on March 9 for an important announcement from Catherine Lennon: She has moved back into her home.

Lennon was forcibly removed from her home on March 28 after a year in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with her mortgage holder, Fannie Mae. During the eviction, Rochester police officers sealed off the entire block to traffic and arrested seven anti-eviction activists.

The incident shone an unflattering light on Fannie Mae, which quickly made a great show of coming to the negotiating table in the hopes of returning the Lennon family to their home.

Catherine Lennon and her late husband purchased their home in 2006 for $30,000. Fannie Mae has offered to sell the home back to her for $50,000. This affront is even more offensive in light of the $90 billion bailout that Fannie Mae received in 2008, purportedly to help keep families like Lennon's in their homes.

Even more outrageous is the fact that New York State Supreme Court records reveal that Fannie Mae paid just $500 for the home--and is attempting to garner a 1,000 percent profit.

Catherine Lennon in front of her home
Catherine Lennon in front of her home

Rob Robinson, a co-founder of the national Take Back the Land network and one of the 25 people at the May 9 event, told reporters, "The government took our taxes and gave them to the banks, sending a strong message that it's okay for an individual to fail, but it's not okay for a bank to fail. They can't take our money and take our houses, too."

Take Back the Land's press release states, "Lennon did not repurchase the home. Instead, she was moved back in with help from Take Back the Land-Rochester, the organization which initially helped her defend against the eviction. Lennon, Take Back the Land-Rochester and neighbors are preparing to defend the home against a possible second eviction."

There was no police presence at this morning's press conference, but activists were prepared to chain themselves to the door in the event of a second eviction attempt.

Rob Robinson articulated the sentiment of many of the organizers, "Civil disobedience has brought the only social change we've ever seen in this country."

Lennon, who has spent the last month depleting her savings living in a motel, spent last night in her home on a borrowed mattress. The city of Rochester is demanding that she pay $300 to retrieve her belongings from the storage space they were dumped into after the eviction.

Regardless, she says, "I slept like a baby, because I came home." The front of the house was decorated with banners that read "Welcome Home Cathy" and "Housing is a Human Right."

Ms. Lennon, who has been dubbed "the Rosa Parks of the foreclosure crisis," responded to that comparison by saying:

She was a mighty woman, and I'm going to be mighty with her. I'm not doing this just for me right now; I'm doing it for the whole country. This is supposed to be the land of the free, and I'm not seeing that right now. What kind of America is this?

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