Bank Tenants Fight to Stay in Their Homes

Things look bleak for bank tenants, because banks make bigger profits from selling mortgages than from collecting rents on low-income properties. But in New England, people are coming together to confront banks and, in many cases, they are winning. The cost of contested evictions is forcing banks to accede to tenants’ demands to stay in their homes, while the increasing number of bank tenants fighting eviction is developing into a movement. People are turning to each other for solidarity in direct actions to defend their homes and to make their voices heard.

Read on for stories from Massachusetts and Rhode Island...

Across the country, the foreclosure epidemic is getting worse. As reported online by RealtyTrac, 343,638 homes received foreclosure notices in September 2009, up 29% from last year. Meanwhile, bank repossessions of houses were up as well – by 21 percent. This indicates that banks are taking over foreclosed properties, instead of helping property owners get their mortgages restructured into more manageable debt.

Bank lobbyists have already helped kill legislation meant to enable judges to reduce mortgage payments for families declaring bankruptcy. Now, they’re trying to defeat a proposal for a governmental Financial Protection Agency. The agency’s purpose would be to prevent banks from using deceptive practices to sell mortgages to people who can’t afford them.

But homeowners aren’t the only ones being hurt. Foreclosures are negatively affecting renters as well. Tenants may not know the landlord has fallen behind on mortgage payments, but when banks foreclose on rental properties, tenants are being evicted - even when they are current on their rent. Especially impacted are people in very low income families, and communities of color.

Things look bleak for bank tenants, because banks make bigger profits from selling mortgages than from collecting rents on low-income properties. But in New England, people are coming together to confront banks and, in many cases, they are winning. For example, in Rhode Island, banking interests put forth a bill to undermine tenants rights. Tenants and their supporters, working with the Rhode Island Tenant and Homeowner Association, fought the bill and won.

Banks have been unwilling to negotiate with tenants of foreclosed properties – either to sell them the property at appraised value, or to accept rent. This has left tenants feeling frustrated and angry enough to contest bank evictions. In fact, in Massachusetts, the Suffolk County Housing Court has had to create a new foreclosure division to deal with the flood.

The cost of contested evictions is forcing banks to accede to tenants’ demands to stay in their homes, while the increasing number of bank tenants fighting eviction is developing into a movement. People are turning to each other for solidarity in direct actions to defend their homes and to make their voices heard.

A Boston family, evicted when the bank foreclosed on their landlord, wanted to bring attention to the illogical policy of bank evictions. These evictions cause families to become homeless while leaving the families’ former homes vacant. With help from the Boston Bank Tenants Association, the family occupied another housing unit made empty by foreclosure. This action put pressure on the bank owner to negotiate, and ultimately to sell the property to a non-profit lender that sells and rents to local residents homes that were previously bank-owned.

A bank tenant association is a group of tenants and homeowners facing foreclosure evictions. They come together to help each other fight their cases and build a movement with the power to stop evictions so people can stay in their homes. Bank tenant associations have formed in East Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Somerville, Providence, and Worcester. Soon to start are groups in Hartford, Brockton, Merrimack Valley, and southern Maine.

In East Boston, tenants in a foreclosed building decided to fight their eviction. Confronting the bank in court, they won $12,500, the right to stay in their apartment at $200 less rent, and all utilities paid by the bank.

In Providence, the Bank Tenant Association, along with two community groups – Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and the Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA) – came together to fight the eviction of a disabled family. The family had been intimidated, harassed, and offered money to leave by Deutsche Bank. When the Association threatened to physically blockade any attempted eviction, the bank backed down.

Though banks received a $700 billion government bailout last year when they ran into trouble due to deceitful lending practices, the foreclosure crisis continues as a cruel reality for many tenants and homeowners. As long as greedy banks and speculators are able to get rich from the housing market, people will continue to lose their homes and communities will be torn apart. The alternative is for housing, like other basic needs, to be governed by the simple principle of people, not profits.


If you or someone you know is facing foreclosure, do not leave your home! Look for a Bank Tenants Association in your community. If your community does not have an association, contact the tenant rights organization, City Life/Vida Urbana, at 617-524-3541 or go to www.clvu.org for info on how to get one started.



Freedom #3
NEFAC New England
PO Box 230685 • Boston, MA 02123
newengland@nefac.net
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617-544-3932