Resistance to the evictions spreads

April 17, 2012

Jamie Partridge, secretary of Occupy Northeast, the Black Working Group, in Portland, Ore., describes the state of the movement to save people's homes.

I HAVE lived and worked in Portland's inner city for decades. I'm a recently retired letter carrier, so I've had a street-level view of the housing crisis in the North/Northeast community. I know who lives in the houses. I know what kind of work they do, whether they rent or own. I've watched kids grow up, and people get old and die. And I've watched a massive displacement of Black families.

In the 1990s, I watched the gentrification of my route, which went from 80 percent Black with many renters, to 30 percent Black with mostly homeowners. In the last six years, I've witnessed a massive displacement of those remaining homeowners.

The loss of family wealth in the Black community, wealth tied to equity in homes, has been stripped away at a phenomenal rate. Black and Latino communities have lost well over 50 percent of their wealth in the housing crisis, compared to 16 percent for white people. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 53 percent of African Americans who bought homes in 2006 have already lost or will lose their homes to foreclosure in the next few years.

The racist, predatory lending, which included a lot of variable rate, interest-only and balloon-payment refinancing to accomplish needed repairs, combined with the housing bubble and crash, left many families owing more on their homes than the market value, with huge mortgage payments and unable to sell the homes.

Then the employment crash, which hit Black and brown folks the hardest, as the last hired, first fired; racial discrimination in re-hiring; plus the impact of the war on drugs, which created a whole layer of economically disenfranchised Black men, now being called "the New Jim Crow"--all these factors have led to a huge foreclosure crisis in this community.

I helped organize Occupy Northeast, the Black Working Group, when my brother Nabeeh Mustafa asked me to contact Black friends who might be sympathetic to the Occupy Portland movement. Right out of the gate, the foreclosure crisis and police terrorism were front and center on people's minds. Nabeeh himself is facing foreclosure.

Our group began to grow as folks in foreclosure, who were facing eviction or had self-evicted, came our direction. I already knew Angelah Hill and other Black women whose homes are in foreclosure, as hardworking, upstanding members of the community who were just the tip of this foreclosure iceberg.

We are off and running because these brave individuals broke through the isolation, the shame and the embarrassment that comes with foreclosure. With the help of the group, they were willing to step up to tell their story--to reveal how they had been lied to, hoodwinked and defrauded by the banksters and various sharks who prey on victims of the housing and employment crisis. And with the strength of the group and other groups, they will stay in their homes and put up a valiant fight.

ALL ACROSS the country, groups like ours are springing up. As news spreads of successful eviction resistance and as the Occupy movement grows and moves from the encampments into communities, more homeowners take heart, band together with others in crisis and refuse to leave.

A national clearinghouse for news, strategies and tactics has emerged called Occupy Our Homes. This organization holds weekly conference calls, sharing information and successes from different cities.

The website has a "How to Defend Your Home" section, including legal strategies, plus suggestions for delegations and protests at banks, auction resistance, home defense and reoccupation tactics. It also has visual resources, such as "Occupy" tape, "I'm Not Leaving" signs, petitions for neighbors to sign and sample letters to banks. The website includes victory stories from all over the country, and contact information for foreclosure resistance groups all over the country.

Detroit, which has a 20 percent foreclosure rate, has a group called "Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs," which just hosted a national conference calling for a two-year moratorium on foreclosures.

The group is organizing to bring back the moratoriums that were accomplished in more than 25 states in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The Michigan Moratorium Act, for example, gave an automatic five-year stay to anyone facing foreclosure, with a judge setting a payment based on the homeowner's ability to pay. These laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the people's right to survive during an economic emergency superseded the contract clause of the Constitution.

These foreclosure moratoriums in the 1930s were enacted not out of the kindness of politicians' hearts, but because resistance to evictions was so massive that the moratoriums were already happening in fact, on the ground, with the banks getting nothing. Tens of thousands of actions against evictions were organized by Unemployed Councils, led by the communists and other radicals. Today's Occupy movement brings echoes of those Unemployed Councils.

Occupy LA is planning to occupy 99 homes at the same time to inspire others to do the same across the country. Occupy Chicago is planning a mass "liberation" of 99 bank-owned, abandoned homes. Activists are organizing to fix up these houses during the G8/NATO summit in May, when thousands of Occupy supporters are expected in town--the goal is for these activists to engage with the community by participating in the clean-up campaign, and to move families into the 99 houses in June.

Occupy Minneapolis has been able to stop several foreclosures through mass rallies or block parties at threatened homes, drawing in neighbors with weekly neighborhood forums, ringing an effected block with an orange plastic fence. Their goal is build a large enough base to bargain nationwide with the banks, to build a national union of homeowners.

In Chicago, the Cook County sheriff has suspended evictions due to foreclosure in 2008 and 2010, because of the massive fraud associated with the banks' actions. In San Francisco, the county auditor found that 85 percent of recent foreclosures were illegal and an eviction moratorium is under consideration. If we effectively organize resistance here in Portland, the Multnomah County Sheriff, an elected official, may also decide to back off foreclosure evictions.

Clearly the foreclosure resistance movement has the potential to move huge numbers of people--Black, Latino, white, Asian; working class and middle class; the 99 percent together--into challenging this New Jim Crow, this racist housing and employment crisis caused by a corrupt and predatory capitalist system. If we stick together and support each other, we'll win.

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