Eviction outrage in Van Nuys

Leslie Radford reports on the end of a months-long struggle of activists to keep the Hernandez family in their Van Nuys, Calif., home.

Javier and Lupe Hernandez (Leslie Radford)Javier and Lupe Hernandez (Leslie Radford)

THE HERNANDEZ family, who became local heroes in their determination to keep their Van Nuys, Calif., home from foreclosure, were evicted by the Los Angeles sheriffs and police at 4:30 a.m. on December 27.

In what is fast becoming a symbol of the fight against fraudulent foreclosures, the Hernandez family built a barricade across the front of the property announcing "Government By, Of and For the People." They decorated their roof in Christmas lights, proclaiming "Evict Banks" with members of Occupy San Fernando Valley, Occupy the Hood, and the Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign supporting them. For 123 days, they held off the Bank of New York-Mellon with the support of grassroots groups across Los Angeles.

What became the nation's second-longest home occupation ended when the family and their friends were awakened by the sound of the slamming doors of dozens of law enforcement vehicles surrounding the 1400 block of Leadwell Street in Van Nuys.

Sheriff's deputies announced in Spanish and English that they were entering the property to evict the Hernandez family and ordered that those inside exit. A protester named Ari described the confrontation: "The sheriff's are at your door with flashlights telling you to get your stuff, where's everyone at--you don't know where everyone's at, you know people are in the house--kidnapping everybody according to plan."

The protesters complied, and the standoff ended without incident. The family and their friends stayed in the area for about six hours until a work crew hauled away personal effects, and replaced the barricade with a ten-foot chain link fence and a "For Sale" sign.

Javier Hernandez purchased the property for his mother seven years ago. At the recommendation of the bank, he stopped making payments in order to receive a loan modification but was met with repeated rejections. His story is typical of those people, predominantly Black and Latino, who were sold subprime mortgages at the height of the housing boom.

Like so many others, Javier's father was deported. Javier lost his job. The value of the house plummeted. His younger brother Ulises' affiliation with community activists, as well as an eviction notice, led to the encampment action.

Javier has since found employment and just days before the bank ordered the eviction he came to a settlement with the mortgage trustees and was waiting for court approval. He elaborated, "We presented sufficient income to make the payments, and yet they still came in and evicted us right before New Year's Eve."

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WITH THE block closed off by police vehicles, the protesters gathered a block and a half from the home. A protester named Heather commented on the scene right after the eviction: "Mama Lupe is sitting on the curb, the guy shows up in his Mustang with six trucks, a moving truck and a tow truck, he tells the police 'I'm with the bank,' and the police just wave him on. When we started yelling at him, the police surrounded his car in protection."

A police cruiser pulled out, and someone shouted, "Donut run!" The early morning scene was a game of taunting the police and dueling video cameras, interrupted by media crews. But the protesters' underlying determination was implacable.

As one protesters named Adam explained:

The LAPD and the Los Angeles Police Department committed a gross and violent of violation of the United Nations Declaration's human right to housing under Article 25. What we see here is an extension of the police state. Look at this: forty sheriffs' deputies, a hundred and some-odd cops. This is ridiculous. All with messed up attitudes, all standing there like they're not messing up this family.

There's something in court to stop all this but they don't care. The justice system is not designed for the people. It's an injustice system. It's only a justice system if you have money. That's done.

Another protester, Bilal, added, "Multitudes and masses of police officers came for an eviction. We're not done, we're not through. We're going to keep up the resistance, we going to keep up the fight for the human right to housing."

Jesus framed the events in the context of the worldwide economic failure: "It's another clear example of why capitalism doesn't work. Profit before people, right? Isn't that the logo? The fact that we think still have people who think we have the courts on our side, that's crazy. At least we made it through Christmas."

The sheriff threatened to carry out the eviction on Christmas Eve, and early in the morning, Javier's mother Lupe gathered up the Christmas presents from under the tree and took the three younger children out of the house. The family met with the sheriffs and, facing a flood of public outrage, the sheriffs agreed to postpone the eviction.

That evening, Lupe brought the children and the presents back home. As the eviction took place three days later, she sat on the curb wrapped in a purple blanket and grieved quietly, "It's cold, we're out of our home. It's cold. I don't know what else to say."

During their four-month resistance, activists built a cooperative community in the Hernandez home, including composting, surveying community needs, hosting barbeques and children's parties for neighbors, raising eviction awareness, and holding eviction training for renters and home owners. They mounted a legal defense with attorney Philip Koebel, and they marched on the international banks in downtown Los Angeles.

After months of collective work, protester Amari remarked, "We're still standing strong despite all this. We're all sticking together, we've become a family, and that's what family does, they stick together."

Before she left at 11 a.m., Lupe moved an abandoned chair up to the chain link fence and, with her son translating, addressed her extended family. She promised, "The next family that wants to do this, that wants to stand up to the banks, I will be there. We will be there."