Boston: Eviction Blockade Forces Bank into Negotiations

In response to the new eviction order against Melonie Griffiths-Evans and her 3 children, City Life and the Bank Tenant Association again began to organize an “eviction blockade”, where the crowd would surround the building to stop the eviction. Last week a crowd of about 75 protesters caused the bank to back off from the planned eviction. Activists had hoped for negotiations and were disappointed when Melonie received another notice from the constable that a new eviction attempt would be made tomorrow, Friday, February 1.

As the new blockade organizing went on and press advisories were issued, city councilors Chuck Turner and Sam Yoon were also reaching out to Ocwen Financial Corporation, urging a solution. These combined efforts bore fruit when Ocwen decided to call off the eviction. Ocwen further agreed to set up some discussions with Melonie Griffiths-Evans involving a non-profit mortgage counseling group known as ESAC, based in Jamaica Plain.

“My struggle is not over, but Ocwen’s decision is an important step forward,” stated Melonie Griffiths-Evans. “I first and foremost would like to thank God. I would also like to thank the many supporters, officials and community members who stood by me physically or in spirit. Hopefully, we can all join and continue this work to make the same thing happen for the thousands of other families threatened with eviction after foreclosure in 2008.”

Melonie lives with her 3 children, ages 13, 14, and 18. She works with teens at the Bird St. Community Center. When the bank first presented her with her future mortgage payments at her closing in 2004, she balked. “I knew I couldn’t afford that,” Melonie said. “But they promised to refinance in 2 months and lower the payment. They never did.” Add to that an adjustable rate mortgage that increased payments, and Melonie fell behind at the end of 2006. Melonie dealt with Zeus, a company now barred from activity in Mass. by the Attorney General. The bank (now US Bank) foreclosed in 2007 and got an move-out order for Dec. 31. After that Melonie found City Life and joined the fight against post-foreclosure evictions, including her own.

The Bank Tenant Association will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 5, to organize support for those other families. “The Bank Tenant Assoc. includes both former owners and tenants,” explained Cheryl Lawrence, a tenant organizer at City Life. “They want a very very simple thing. They want to pay rent after foreclosure. Why do the Banks insist on mass evictions after foreclosure? They caused this mess in the first place.”

Post foreclosure evictions are a gigantic problem. City Life has reported that Jan. 14 Banker and Tradesman included over 35 properties experiencing “foreclosure sales.” "If we assume that foreclosed properties are, on average, 2-family buildings, that means 3500 families will face forcible eviction in 2008 in Boston!" read its press release.

In the United States as a whole, the subprime market has fueled a record one million foreclosures this year, with an estimated two million expected in 2008. In December 2007, President Bush signed into law a measure waving taxes on some homeowners facing foreclosure, but critics say the law covers just seven percent of subprime borrowers.

“Our office is being flooded with calls from families, both homeowners and tenants, facing eviction after foreclosure,” noted Steve Meacham, also with City Life. “Yesterday Donna Ford called from Everett facing forcible eviction Feb. 1. She has a son serving in Iraq, who offered to buy; the bank said no. Let’s be clear, all these families are being evicted no-fault. We need a ‘just cause’ eviction law for foreclosed properties to stop it.”

City Life is following a rapidly growing number of Bank eviction cases, now totaling about 100. City Life’s main goal immediately is to stop the mass evictions. Afterwards, they want to set up negotiations, including City officials, for mass sales of foreclosed property to non-profits, as DSNI suggests.

[Editors' Note: Article based on City Life's press advisories of January 31, 2008]

reprinted from Boston Indymedia