No eviction for Cathy Lennon

August 23, 2011

Jonathan Valenti reports on the case of Cathy Lennon--who has been fighting for over a year to prevent being evicted from her home.

"VICTORY WILL be mine," said Cathy Lennon of Rochester, N.Y., during a press conference announcing that the state Supreme Court had issued a stay on her eviction from her home.

This wasn't the first time Lennon had faced eviction. Earlier in the year, the activist group Take Back the Land-Rochester, which believes housing is a human right, helped Lennon defend her home, organizing an anti-eviction campaign with her.

Lennon was forcibly removed from her home on March 28 after a year in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with her current mortgage holder Fannie Mae following the death of her husband from cancer.

During the eviction, Rochester police sealed off the entire block to traffic and arrested seven anti-eviction activists--including a 70-year-old neighbor who was still in her pajamas. The story caused a public outcry and filled local evening news broadcasts.

Lennon and her late husband purchased their home in 2006 for $30,000. Fannie Mae (which bought the mortgage from Countrywide Home Loan for just $500) has offered to sell the home back to Lennon for $50,000--despite the fact that the company received a $90 billion bailout in 2008, supposedly to help keep families like Cathy Lennon's in their homes.

Cathy Lennon celebrates a judge's order allowing her to stay in her home
Cathy Lennon celebrates a judge's order allowing her to stay in her home

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) intervened, holding a conference call between Fannie Mae and Lennon to re-open talks renegotiating the terms of the mortgage. Although these talks fizzled out, Cathy Lennon moved back into her home in May.

During a contentious court hearing on August 12, Lennon was given 72 hours to leave her home or be forcibly removed. Take Back the Land, which has been working closely with Lennon to keep her house, organized to pack the court with supporters at her hearing, and planned a rally and nonviolent eviction blockade to defend Lennon from eviction.

On August 16, the day before Cathy was to be thrown out of her home once again, state Supreme Court Judge Anne Taddeo intervened. Judge Taddeo found that Cathy's foreclosure was filled with irregularities and called off the eviction until Countrywide/Bank of America could appear in court to defend the legality of its claims. At an August 30 hearing, if Countrywide cannot prove its actions were legal, the foreclosure on Lennon's home will be nullified.

With news of the temporary victory in the courts, Take Back the Land turned their anti-eviction protest into a rally for Lennon's right to keep her home. Thirty activists turned out August 17 to support Lennon with signs that read, "We shall not be moved" and "Bail out the people--not the banks."

Cathy Lennon has continued to garner support in her community, but the coming days will be crucial.

In addition to gaining support for Lennon, housing rights activists in Rochester are demanding an end to evictions and foreclosures. Activists are pressing the mayor's office to declare a moratorium on foreclosures, and the chief of police to order his officers to cease carrying out evictions. We are also demanding legislation be passed supporting local control of housing and land. If we succeed, we could help put a halt to the housing crisis in Rochester.

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