Activists Gather in Roxbury to Block Eviction
BOSTON/Roxbury - A group of activists from the Jamaica Plain based advocacy organization City Life/Vida Urbana, and their supporters, showed up yesterday morning to protect a single woman facing eviction from her condominium in Roxbury.
Paula Taylor, of 76 Perrin Street, said the response to her situation was "awesome."
Chanting "hey hey, ho ho, greedy banks have got to go," about 75 activists stood in front of the three story blue house in this Roxbury neighborhood of triple-deckers and old brick factory buildings. Previously, the mortgage on the condo - originally held by The Bank of New York - had been foreclosed upon by Countrywide, Inc. That company, now owned by The Bank of America, is serving as the bank's agent. Countrywide faces growing criticism for its practice of encouraging borrowers to take sub-prime loans; especially potential homeowners ill equipped to handle market prices.
To the surprise of blockade organizers and Ms. Taylor herself, a constable from the Suffolk County Sheriff's office arrived just after 10:30am and announced the eviction had been postponed. One activist, Pamela Bush of the Four Corners Action Coalition, said Ms. Taylor wasn't notified of bank officials' change of mind until yesterday morning.
Taylor, 43 years old and a fitness trainer, told a reporter later that morning that the constable said the bank had ordered the eviction called off for now and that "it was a relief to him." Countrywide, she said, had been allowing Ms. Taylor to stay in the home until June 30th, while a niece living there until recently, was finishing the school term.
Taylor has lived in the condo for two years. Before that, she was homeless, she said.
According to Soledad Lawrence, an organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, Ms. Taylor faces financial difficulties in part, because a roommate, who was helping to pay expenses moved from the house recently, and was having problems paying her mortgage and utilities. The housing advocate said the Bank has been refusing to negotiate with Ms. Taylor over the possibility of paying rent while she stays in her home.
The Boston Globe reported that Countrywide spokesperson, Rick Simon, said it was unlikely the company would allow Ms. Taylor to stay in the condo longer than another 30 days. He said "it makes it much more difficult to sell a property with a tenant in it." But Simon also told the paper that "we have a commitment to making the whole process as smooth and compassionate as we can."
In the past, City Life activists have pledged to use their bodies, risking arrest if necessary, in order to block eviction procedures. Ms. Taylor said people have offered her places to stay, if she is forced to leave.
In a press release issued this week, City Life said Ms. Taylor "will leave without a fight if someone buys her condo who wants to move in." Fueling anger against banks and other financial institutions nationally, is the willingness of lenders to evict people and leave empty homes for months, possibly years, while the housing market remains depressed.
On Monday, the U.S. Federal Reserve agreed to new rules that would bar financial entities from making loans without proof of a borrower's income and savings. But the rules, the Associated Press reported, "cover only new loans, not existing ones, so they will have little effect on the rising tide of mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures." Furthermore, AP reported, the rules don't go into effect until Oct. 1, 2009.
Joining the activists at the blockade in Roxbury yesterday were Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and former gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross. Currently, Ross, a registered lobbyist, is working with the Massachusetts Coalition Against Predatory Lending to pass three related bills in the state legislature. One would place a six month moratorium on all foreclosures. Another would mandate that evictions be ordered only for "just cause."
[AUDIO: Senator Dianne Wilkerson testifying May 13, 2008 at the State House on behalf of the three bills]
Steve Meacham, a City Life/Vida Urbana Coordinator, said a home rule petition endorsing the "just cause" approach to evictions previously had been passed unanimously by the Boston City Council. This is a far cry he said, from last year's 9 to 4 defeat of a measure ordering landlords to meet with their tenants and negotiate in good faith. Meacham pointed out that the nationwide economic crisis has worsened significantly over the past year.
The sub-prime lending crisis has become a classic tug of war between social justice advocates, corporations, and government regulators. Soledad Lawrence, of City Life/Vida Urbana said activists seek a reevaluation of the housing market based on current economic conditions. She said Bank of America Chair and CEO Kenneth Lewis has stated "'if borrowers can afford to pay market rates and want to stay in their homes, we can and do work them,' and we think that's great. But the market rate is not what the mortgage was. The value of homes has dropped. And so we've gone to many banks and said 'we don't want to modify the loan where the tenant or former owner is still paying $400,000 or $500,000 plus for a home. Let's look at the true appraised value [not these exorbitant prices] and go from there.'"
With City Life's help, Paula Taylor was able to discover her rights vis a vis her mortgage situation, including the right to a hearing in Boston Housing Court. But many people, she said, including at one time herself, "don't know how to navigate the system, and are really scared."
Check out City Life/Vida Urbana's website at http://www.clvu.org