Next Move: Occupy Foreclosed Homes?

Is that where the movement of “99-percenters” fighting economic inequality and corporate greed decides to go next?                                                               

  • In Chicago, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, Occupy Chicago and Occupy Judaism helped Sabrina Morey and her seven children celebrate Hannukah this week in a home they are occupying.
  • Veteran Bobby Hull says:    “If people start getting together we may have a chance. I’ve served my time in Vietnam and I’m not afraid to fight again.”
  • Debbie Henry tells the story of what she and her husband Robert are facing with their foreclosure and why they are occupying their home:                                                                                                                                                               “Our home was our future, and we thought that we’d invested wisely. We were making our payments, even though now it’s worth a third of what we paid for it. But after I had my stroke, we just couldn’t keep up. We tried to work with the banks to get a fair deal, but they gave us the run-around for years. Now they want to throw us out. I thought they got all this taxpayer money so that families like us could have a second chance,” said Debbie, a former manager at a food services company.                                     

The Occupy Wall Street movement is at a crossroads. Some original organizers have called for folding up tents, declaring victory, and moving to other kinds of focused activism. Police in some cities have cleared occupations out of public spaces; activists have clashed with police to get back in. In a few cities, including New Haven, occupiers are getting along with police and are determined to stay outside indefinitely.

Now some occupiers have come up with a new strategy, with big lenders as the target: occupying some of the countless foreclosed-upon, empty homes blighting urban neighborhoods. (Read about that tactic here.)

The New Haven occupation has the foreclosure idea “under serious consideration,” said stalwart participant Drew Peccerillo. “We’re trying to figure out the logistics of it.”

Is foreclosure occupation the right way to go? The question was posed to three leading New Haven political thinkers known for smart and unconventional or unpredictable takes on the news: State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who represents Newhallville (the epicenter of New Haven’s foreclosure crisis); Business New Haven and New Haven Magazine publisher Mitchell Young; and Yale history professorJennifer Klein, who recently got arrested while participating in an Occupy demonstration in New York.

They debated the question among themselves in real time for a half-hour on a shared Google document, and they came up with three different takes (or four?) on the foreclosure question, as well as the success of the Occupy movement so far.

Seize the houses! Klein advised: The banks caused this mess.

No they didn’t, argued Young: Some cities need to wither, and the movement has had no real impact.

It is making a difference, countered Holder-Winfield, but it should focus on “occupying” the legislature rather than messing with private property.

It’s not as though the banks are doing anything with a lot of these properties. There are blocks and blocks of abandoned housing all over this country. At the same time, there are people who have nowhere to live. Those left in the heavily abandoned neighborhoods live in increasingly dangerous and unhealthy circumstances. So why shouldn’t people take control of these spaces and turn them to positive social uses? (And politicize them!)

These kinds of actions have a long history in the U.S. Neighborhood activists and labor activists moved evicted tenants back into apartments or homes in the 1890s, in the 1910s, during the Great Depression. Before you had a labor movement that was legalized, there was the Neighborhood Council of Working-Class Women moving evicted families back into their homes.

In response to Gary’s point about prompting public officials to act, it was these kinds of direct actions that compelled Roosevelt to put in place programs like Home Owners Loan Corporation during the New Deal, which was an incredibly successful program that did indeed “save” people’s homes. (I believe over a million homes.) Right now there are activists from New York to Chicago to L.A. who are going in collective groups to banks like Bank of America to pressure loan officers to let them renegotiate the terms of their mortgage, so that they can keep paying and stay in their homes. It’s not “shirking” some responsibility, but rather bringing the mortgage back in line with home value and adjusting fees, etc. But it takes direct action to make it happen.

As for Mitch’s point, we should help people move on and let a place die? Are you actually saying that? Are you actually suggesting that we just accept some inevitable decline of a city like New Haven? Do you think that’s how we got out of the Great Depression? No! Exactly the opposite. We got out of it through massive public investment that upgraded and modernized cities and the countryside.

Tags: , , empty homes, New Haven, occupy foreclosures

Categories: Activism


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  1. Occupy the Courts – a US wide event on Fri 20 January « Victims Unite! - January 5, 2012

    [...] I wonder when the UK will be ready to follow suit – especially with the idea to Occupy Foreclosed Homes! [...]

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