Boston's housing crisis spawns a grassroots revolution

Fighting foreclosure
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  September 30, 2011

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STAND UP, FIGHT BACK At City Life/Vida Urbana's weekly "bank-tenant" meetings, the crowd prepares to wage war against the foreclosure crisis.


There are about 1500 pissed-off people lacing up their shitkickers around Boston right now. They're airbrushing placards, photocopying fliers, and in some cases preparing to be arrested. It's been more than three years since the nation's biggest banks pillaged the economy and screwed American homeowners, and these activists think it's time to quit taking it and start throwing haymakers.

More than a dozen orgs have united to mastermind a multilateral attack for the ages. For the progressive left, which can have a hard time getting its act together, this is a rare phenomenon. Like other urban centers that have been hit hard by the mortgage crisis, Boston has taken its knocks: roughly 7000 Massachusetts residents were put on eviction row in 2011, more than 1400 in July alone. But nowhere else have people been able to fight back against abusive banks in such a sustained or organized way.

The difference is that here, everyone is at the same table, and that table is a group called MassUniting. Formed in April by Democratic and progressive activists, they've managed to reach out to various groups and choreograph them into a cohesive front.

"We're bringing divergent groups together," says Jason Stephany, spokesperson for MassUniting. "People are hurting and looking for any way possible to change their situation, and we're trying to give them a productive way to do that."

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In July, MassUniting coordinated a 400-person Dorchester speak-out. In August, they crashed Republican Senator Scott Brown's fundraiser with a brass band. Two weeks ago, female activists disguised themselves as servers and infiltrated a posh BoA breakfast at the Seaport Hotel. All summer, smaller groups of activists have picketed dozens of BoA branches, culminating in a delivery of a truckload of trash — collected from the unkempt yard of a foreclosed BoA property in Malden — to the doorstep of a Beacon Hill townhouse belonging to the bank's Massachusetts president, Robert Gallery.

These campaigns aren't just political theater. They get actual results. For example: the Jamaica Plain-based advocacy nonprofit City Life Vida Urbana, a major player MassUniting's coalition, has spent the last three years staging eviction blockades — arriving en masse the day foreclosed homes are to be auctioned off and physically disrupting the proceedings. That, along with other tactics, like counseling homeowners and negotiating on their behalf with banks, has helped keep more than 1000 families off the street.

Now, with the national umbrella org Right to the City hosting its annual convention in Boston this weekend, activists from across the country are parachuting in to join forces with their Boston brethren.

Their target: Bank of America's Federal Street offices. Their mission: to give BoA a swift kick in the balls.

"When you back people into a corner, they're going to fight back," says Stephany. "Trust me — this is just the opening salvo."


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GATHERING FORCES

With 15 days to go before the planned BoA action downtown, Stephany and MassUniting director Angela DeLeo are greeting members of their small army in the South Bay Plaza parking lot.

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Related: Giles is one tough cookie, Wall Street's death wish, Boston pols bail on Bank of America, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Bank of America, foreclosure, MassUniting,  More more >
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