BOSTON/Mattapan - Less than twelve hours after Barack Obama spoke to the nation, following his historic election as the first black president, an African American family in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston was evicted from their home.
Overcome by emotion, co-owner Frances Louis found it difficult to answer reporter’s questions. But housing and tenants rights activist James Brooks, part of a group of about 25 people protesting the eviction, said “it’s a bittersweet time, you know, because Obama’s theme was ‘yes we can, we can fight against injustice” and the banks are saying ‘no, you can’t.’”
Community organizers with City Life / Vida Urbana, the Jamaica Plain based non-profit that sponsored yesterday’s eviction blockade, criticized banks and their agents such as Bank of America, Countrywide Mortgage and Bear Stearns/J.P. Morgan (which owns the mortgage on the Louis home) for refusing to accept rental payments while families in financial distress attempt to stay in their homes by negotiating more favorable loan arrangements with other banks or lenders.
Ongoing attempts to reach spokespeople for the banks have been unsuccessful. However, earlier this year, at least one bank official told the Boston Globe they did not want to be landlords.
Yesterday, faced with arrest if they tried to block movers from entering the Duke Street home, and saying they were “worried about the safety and health of the family,” City Life activists decided to spare the Louis family more anguish, they said, by cooperating with Boston Housing Court officials and police. But they made it clear to Housing Court Constable Burton Malkofsky, they were disgusted with home evictions; especially at a time when the country’s largest corporate financial institutions are being made whole by the federal government.
“Our battle is with the banks, they have no decency,” implored City Life Organizer Soledad Lawrence, standing on the porch of the two story home, “and today, they’re waking up knowing no matter who won the election, they’re still getting billions of dollars, they’re not losing their home, they’re not losing their car, they’re not losing anything…this is a shameful day.”
Speaking directly to Constable Malkofsky, City Life Tenant Organizing Coordinator Steve Meacham said “I know they were saying last night ‘yes we can’ and we believe yes, we can defeat these bank evictions, and so we’ll be back blocking other evictions, because that’s what we’re going to do to protect our people… And before we let you in, we want you to acknowledge the heroism that they’ve [the Louis family] shown in this…”
Constable Malkofsky thanked the activists for their cooperation.
After weeks of research, City Life identified a property owner and landlord who had several small apartments to offer the family. While police and movers evaluated how to remove the family’s belongings effectively, a process that took about an hour, Ms Louis’ parents Jerry and Yvonne Price, visited two apartments for rent and decided on a Dyer Street unit in Dorchester. The family hopes to find financing so they can buy back their home in Mattapan eventually.
Yesterday’s eviction comes after at least two postponements, including a reprieve on September 22, when Bear Stearns/J.P. Morgan agreed to negotiate terms for a sale with Frances Louis and her mother, co-owners of the original mortgage.
Compounding the problem, say housing advocates, is the severe drop in home prices. According to City Life’s Steve Meacham, a recent appraisal of the Louis home on Duke Street in Mattapan, put the value just under $200,000. But the bank, he indicated, seems disinclined to selling the home at a huge loss. The bank made an offer of about $245,000, according to organizers.
The original loan, Meacham noted, was for $350,000.
Furthermore, said activists, the family may be stuck in a mortgage “catch 22.” When the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation attempted to process a loan for the family, with financing guarantees provided by the Federal Housing Administration, they were told Ms. Price’s income could not be included in the deal because of the current foreclosure. Without the extra income for a small down payment and monthly premiums, the family was told they are ineligible for the FHA loan.
Yesterday, Paula Taylor, evicted from her home in Roxbury on September 5th, was on hand to help. She said her feelings of hopefulness voting in Tuesday’s election wouldn’t be dampened because of Wednesday’s eviction.
“As I was voting, I was hoping that the next person who gets in, which I believed would be Obama, would make the difference…in our communities now. And he seems to understand the climate, with people losing their homes.”
Families who have been evicted, or face foreclosure proceedings, she said, have been meeting weekly to boost each others spirits and strategize on future activism.
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Four activists arrested at a September 5th eviction blockade in Roxbury face an administrative hearing in Roxbury District Court this morning to determine if trespassing charges will be pursued by the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.
According to City Life/Vida Urbana Tenant Organizing Coordinator Steve Meacham, a Roxbury District Court administrative magistrate found "no probable cause" to charge four activists who had attepmted to block an eviction on September 5th. The four were arrested, but never arraigned, and no charges will be pursued." [Dave Goodman]
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Order of speakers:
James Brooks, Housing Activist
Constable Burton Malkofsky, Boston Housing Court
Steve Meacham, City Life/Vida Urbana Tenant Organizing Coordinator
Soledad Lawrence, City Life/Vida Urbana Organizer