(MintPress) – In the infancy of the Occupy Wall Street movement, critics lamented about how the activist hopefuls lacked organization and a common objective. After downscaling protests during the winter months to account for the weather, Occupy worked more behind the scenes in an effort to triage the biggest issues facing Americans. It is months later and the groups have unleashed a collective effort nationwide to battle home foreclosures and demanding banks negotiate with homeowners rather than rushing to foreclosure.
At the height of the financial crisis in the latter part of the last decade, the housing market suffered indirectly as banks required a bailout from the United States government as valuations and liquidity problems saw many of them under water. When the housing bubble in the U.S. burst after property values rose to unsustainable levels, buyers also found themselves under water and unable to afford their mortgage. This resulted in a rash of foreclosures that still continues today. In the first quarter of 2012, lenders executed 198,000 foreclosures.
Occupy has looked to curb that number, saying that banks are too willing to take a home away rather than work with the homeowner to formulate an agreement that would keep the homeowner under the roof. Movements across the country have demonstrated outside banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Citibank.
“In 2008, we discovered bankers and speculators had been gambling with our most valuable asset, our homes—betting against us and destroying trillions of dollars of our wealth,” Occupy our Homes said on its official website. “Now, because of the foreclosure crisis Wall Street banks created with their lies and greed, millions of Americans have lost their homes, and one in four homeowners are currently underwater on their mortgage.”
The effects of foreclosure can be devastating for families and communities. Commonly, the obvious dilemma faced by families is homelessness. In 2011, it was documented that there were 636,017 homeless people in the United States, according to the Nation Alliance to End Homelessness. The U.S. government looked to curb high homelessness rates by injecting $1.5 billion into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which supplemented the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). In 2009, the homeless population was 643,067, so the program funding only reduced homelessness by one percent.
Despite federal funding, foreclosure factors played into the stagnant statistic. From 2009, when the initial investment was made into HPRP, to 2010, home foreclosures in the U.S. increased by 50,000. On a national scale, one out of every 45 housing units in the U.S. faced foreclosure in 2010, potentially negating the impact of the HPRP investment.
Another societal effect for foreclosure is crime. Slavic Village, Ohio, which had more than 800 vacant homes in 2007, saw crime rates rise with the increase of foreclosures. As the leading community in the U.S. in terms of foreclosure, the city reported that vacant homes were usually looted within 72 hours of evacuation. The actions prompted the city to invest into crime-watch programs in neighborhoods with high foreclosures.
As banks look to recoup the losses of under-water mortgages, foreclosures and evictions have become more calculated and aggressive. Recently, a family in Georgia was the victim of an early-morning eviction that saw dozens of sheriffs and deputies kick the family out at gunpoint. The 3 a.m. foreclosure action happened at the home of Christine Frazer, who, with the help of Occupy Atlanta, was challenging the foreclosure with the hopes of restructuring her delinquent mortgage.
Frazer said the eviction splintered her family around various locations within the city, from her 3-year-old grandson to her 85-year-old mother.
“It has been really unsettling,” Frazer told Alternet. “When something like this happens, it breaks up the family. Me and my mom are staying one place. My grandson is someplace. My daughter is staying someplace else. It just feels really strange. I have lived in that home for 18 years. That is where I am used to waking up every morning.”
The 3 a.m. raid of Frazer’s home occurred at the unusual time because law enforcement wanted to operate when Occupiers – who had set up tents in Frazer’s yard as a sign of solidarity – were not in full force. DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown said he feared an altercation with the protesters would take place on the grounds of constant altercations seen in areas such as Oakland and Washington D.C.
“I will not participate in a mass demonstration arrest with television cameras when I am not sure I can trust the people who say they will offer passive resistance,” Brown said. “Our intelligence told us that there were at least 10 Occupy Atlanta folks there on the property; that turned out not to be the case. Our intelligence told us that the family had vacated the house; that turned out not to be the case… We made the decision to have enough resources there to make sure it would not get out of hand.”
Cities across America have championed the cause as a way of helping middle class citizens out of a difficult situation. In Nashville, the Occupy Homes movement in the city helped a 78-year-old woman stay in her home after the group thwarted efforts by J.P. Morgan Chase to foreclose on the property. Occupy Detroit helped a couple stave off eviction after aggressively campaigning on their property.
But few cities in America have adopted the cause with as much passion as Occupy Minneapolis. The Occupy Homes committee in Minneapolis has accounted for multiple victories for homeowners, and organizer Nick Espinosa said their objective is to facilitate negotiations between banks and homeowners to avoid broad sweeping foreclosures.
“Occupy Homes has been one of the national leaders in fighting home foreclosure … working with families and neighbors and especially banks to negotiate with them instead of throwing them out of their homes,” Espinosa told MintPress in a past interview. “We want to come up with reasonable solutions to keep people in their homes.”
The home of Espinosa’s family is also in foreclosure.
The group’s most recent victory was for Minneapolis resident Monique White, who was battling with U.S. Bank over a loan she could no longer afford. White was the first person facing foreclosure to approach an Occupy group in the nation about providing a helping hand. For seven months, Occupy members camped out at White’s residence, petitioned around the city and marched to the home of U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis. White recently received a restructured loan from U.S. Bank that made her home payments more manageable.
“Monique’s victory gives hope to the millions of Americans around the country facing foreclosure,” Espinosa said in a statement. “This shows that the banks can and must enact a grand bargain that would help every homeowner to stay in their home, whether they are in foreclosure or underwater on their mortgage, by reducing the principal on their homes to the actual market value.”
Another high-profile case in Minneapolis is happening at the home of Alejandra and David Cruz, who are facing foreclosure from PNC Mortgage and Freddie Mac. The South Minneapolis home has been the sight of unusual protests and tactics, as activists have almost literally cemented themselves to the property.
“At both the front and back doors, activists have planted a bucket filled with cement, save for a pipe that stretches through its midsection. Two activists sit on either side of the bucket with their arms chained together inside the pipe,” according to Twin Cities Daily Planet writer Jacob Wheeler.
On April 30th, the Cruz family received an eviction notice after pleading with their home lender to renegotiate the terms of the deal. Since then, Occupy Minneapolis has physically had a presence on the Cruz’s property.
“If the bank thinks they are going to evict the Cruz family …, they have another thing coming,” Occupy Minneapolis said on its website.
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