Monday, June 30, 2008

War on Communities

War on Communities


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This foreclosure crisis isn't just about people losing their homes," said Cheryl Lawrence, tenant organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston, Massachusetts. "It's about people losing their communities, their neighbors, the relationships they have with others that give them history and make them feel connected."

I spoke to Lawrence at an 8:30 AM rally in front of the Meyers's family home in Dorchester, Massachusetts on April 16, 2008. The police were scheduled to show up that morning to evict ten people from the three-family home they were renting.

"This is an amazing case," explained Steve Meacham, another tenant organizer from City Life. "US Bank/Wells Fargo/Premier Servicers foreclosed on the owner and are now trying to evict everyone in the building. That includes four brothers and sisters and a licensed day care center. Each household was paying rent of $1,000-$1,300 before foreclosure. They are willing to pay rent again. The bank will not accept it."

The statistics on foreclosure are alarming. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that two million homeowners who have been sold unfair and deceptive loans will face foreclosure in the next two to three years. Over the last 4 years, there has been an almost 300 percent increase in the dollar amount of subprime loans outstanding. One in five subprime mortgages originating during the past two years is likely to end in foreclosure. In Boston alone, 2,000 families will face eviction in 2008.

But the statistics don't tell the full story. "At a tenant meeting last night," Lawrence told me, "I spoke with someone whose grandmother's house had recently been foreclosed. This was the house where family members had been born, where they had celebrated weddings and birthdays. One of the family members is a midwife. When they have to leave their home, the community loses part of its fabric.... We're not just losing buildings. We're losing our midwives, our activists, our day cares. There is a social cost to the community, not just an economic cost."

Moments later a school bus pulled up and one of the children ran down the steps, through the crowd that had gathered to stop his family from being evicted, and up on to the bus. You could easily imagine that bus pulling up and no one being there to board. You could imagine how hard it must be to concentrate in school when you're not sure if police are moving your furniture onto the sidewalk.

"But when people gather like they are here this morning, they're saying, 'We won't let our communities die.' We won't stand by while people suffer the trauma that comes from being uprooted from their homes."

In Boston, as well as in cities around the country, activists recognize foreclosure crisis for what it is— part of an ongoing, sustained war on people and communities—and are mobilizing to defend themselves. "The profit-making structure and a sense of community don't go together," says Lawrence.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of City Life/Vida Urbana and the courage of community members willing to physically block the eviction and risk arrest, the Meyers family won a temporary reprieve from losing their home. In the process, the community won a degree of stability, a child left for school knowing he could come back afterwards, and a group of activists had another chance to learn the power of standing together against forces that value profit over people.

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