Reversing a Portland eviction

Jamie Partridge reports on the latest battle for Portland's anti-eviction movement.

Rallying for a moratorium on evictions at Portland's City Hall (Jamie Partridge | SW)Rallying for a moratorium on evictions at Portland's City Hall (Jamie Partridge | SW)

JUST AS Portland's foreclosure resistance movement was gaining confidence, the city police and county sheriffs evicted Patricia Williams and Darren Johnson. But thanks to the efforts of housing rights activists, the two were back in their home as of Thanksgiving.

On October 30, as the Rapid Response Network turned out 50 home defenders, the authorities countered with 40 police in riot gear, with Tasers, shotguns, and tear gas grenade launchers. As some of the defenders attempted to prevent the eviction, police shot pepper spray, forcing the crowd to retreat. Patricia, whose severe respiratory condition had caused her job loss, medical bills and foreclosure, was rushed from the scene.

The police violence at the home of Patricia and Darren came after a mass rally in late October caused the city to backtrack on its order for Alicia Jackson to leave her home. And the crackdown continued: On November 6, county sheriffs forcibly evicted Will and Heather Sirotek, evading the Rapid Response Network by pulling Will over after he'd dropped off his granddaughter at school.

With the assistance of Portland city police, who barricaded off entire blocks, the Multnomah County Sheriffs broke down both doors, pointed an assault rifle at Heather and took her out in her pajamas, not allowing her to use her phone or get her medication. Heather has terminal cancer, and Will lost his job at the height of the economic crash, a costly combination that led to their home foreclosure.

The next day, a group of ministers, led by Rev. Cecil Prescod, testified before the Portland City Council, calling on the city to stop the public subsidy of bank profits through foreclosure evictions. A letter, signed by dozens of faith leaders, declared, "In a bank-caused economic crisis that affects our community's jobs, access to health care, and ability to pay mortgages, combined with the ongoing efforts of banks to avoid responsibility, no foreclosure can be called fair."

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TWO DAYS later, We Are Oregon, Occupy Northeast and the Black Working Group staged a protest at the sheriff's office. More than 200 demonstrators flooded the lobby of the Multnomah County building to deliver a letter demanding that the sheriff cease foreclosure evictions. The cavernous office lobby echoed for 20 minutes with chants, songs and speeches by foreclosure resisters, including Heather Sirotek and Darren Johnson.

A week later, November 16, another rally drew 50 supporters to City Hall to demand that the city and county governments declare a moratorium on evictions. While insisting that elected officials take the side of homeowners against predatory banks, many who are facing foreclosure stepped up to declare their intention to stay in their homes.

Kent, who with his wife Grace, has lived in Portland for 50 years, had a similar experience to the recently evicted Patricia and Darren. Kent said he filed paperwork for loan modification four times, and each time the bank lost the paperwork. "Our community doesn't want us to move," said Kent. "Our neighbors are supporting us."

A local housing rights activist known as Flenard, representing Hattie Porter, an 83-year-old woman with a heart problem whose home is in foreclosure, told the crowd that Hattie was ready to challenge her eviction.

"She's not giving up," he said. "She's going to stand up and fight. We need to work together to save our schools, homes, and country. It's time for us to stand together and say, 'Enough is enough.' We are not the pigs that built their homes of hay and sticks. Our homes are made of bricks."

Boots Riley, lead singer with the popular rap group, the Coup, told the crowd that the foreclosure resistance movement was fighting for an alternative to the capitalist system that frames housing as an earned reward rather than a human right:

We live in a world where we are taught to work 40 to 60 hours a week so you can have a place to live. Your first house is a celebration, and you have to work your whole life to keep it. That's considered success. Truth is housing should be a right. We are not seen as humans in this system. We are disposable tools for profit.

Protesters then marched up the street to a Summit on Affordable Housing and Homelessness, which had city and county commissioners in attendance. Invited inside by homeless advocates, the demonstrators took over the meeting. They made their demand for a moratorium on evictions to the elected officials and assured them that with or without a moratorium, homeowners would resist removal.

Protesters also announced that just that morning, Patricia Williams and Darren Johnson, with the help of community supporters and faith leaders, had re-occupied their home.

As demonstrators left the summit, word arrived that five Portland police officers were escorting movers into Patricia and Darren's home to remove their property from the premises. Then, just as movers were prying open the front door, the police were called off. Resisters inside the home saw the police receive a phone call and then announce their departure because "this is a civil matter." As of Thanksgiving, Patricia and Darren are still in their home.

As of this writing, the sheriff's office has asked for a meeting with We Are Oregon and the Black Working Group. Public opposition to heavy-handed police evictions on behalf of much-hated banks is evident. Even mainstream television and newspaper reporters express sympathy for homeowners.

We Are Oregon and the Black Working Group will continue canvassing neighborhoods, inviting neighbors to put anti-eviction signs in their yards and enlisting hundreds in the Rapid Response Network.