Keeping families in their homes in Bayview

Julien Ball reports from San Francisco on an important struggle to defend from eviction residents of one of the last remaining African American neighborhoods.

Bayview anti-forclosure activists meet for a block party  (Steve Rhodes)Bayview anti-forclosure activists meet for a block party (Steve Rhodes)

ON NOVEMBER 22, Vivian Richardson hosted a block party outside her home in the 1400 block of Quesada in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood to mark the coming of the holiday season.

The spread included some mean chicken and scrumptious pie, but this was no ordinary Thanksgiving celebration. That's because the party was for the community members and activists from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who are fighting to keep Vivian and 10 other families from that one block in homes that are in foreclosure.

Reporters gathered for a press conference along with about 30 people, including a number of foreclosure fighters. Banners hanging from Vivian's home read, "Keep families in their home this holiday season" and "We are the 99 percent."

Bayview-Hunters Point is one of the last remaining Black enclaves in San Francisco, a city that has seen its African American population plummet as property values skyrocketed over the past several decades. Blacks accounted for 13.4 percent of the city's population in 1970--today, they are just 3.7 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

And this state of affairs is only getting worse. According to ACCE, a total of 1,465 homes will have faced foreclosure in Bayview alone between 2008 and 2012.

Carolyn Gage owned one of these homes, where she had lived for more than 50 years. But because of high interest rates, what started out as a $250,000 loan became a $525,000 loan. In January, Bayview Mortgage Capital foreclosed on her home, and she had to move out.

But in another sign of the new fighting mood sweeping the U.S., earlier this month, Carolyn, working with ACCE, reoccupied her home and is living there now. "It was the right thing, and the only thing I knew how to do: fight back," she says.

Now, residents are fighting to stop the eviction of Josephine Tolbert, a 75-year-old woman who has lived in her home for 40 years. If the Bank of America gets its way, she could be thrown out as soon as December 14. But ACCE, together with her neighbors, members of Occupy San Francisco and other activists, are prepared to help her defend her home.

This is just one front in a series of upcoming actions highlighting housing issues in San Francisco. A coalition of housing rights groups, for example, is organizing a series of marches in affected San Francisco neighborhoods on December 3 to highlight the role of banks in this crisis. The marches will converge at the Occupy San Francisco encampment for a large, central action.

The renewed activism against evictions and foreclosures is already beginning to pay off. Richardson, who herself had been fighting foreclosure, says that Aurora Bank agreed to restructure her mortgage at the end of this year. She says that bank officials initially "locked themselves behind closed doors and put on blinders," but after pressure from the community, they reconsidered.

Now that she has won her case, Vivian thinks it is important to fight for Tolbert and other neighbors. "We need to come together as a neighborhood, as a community, to stop foreclosures," she says. "United we stand, divided we fall."