From Maine to California to Minnesota — and everywhere in between — Americans have been struggling for years to meet their mortgage payments. The housing crisis pitted average homeowners against big banks and lending companies (i.e., bailout recipients), making it fertile ground for Occupiers to take a stand.
Late last year, groups in several locations began to "Occupy Our Homes," a concept that morphed into a nationwide movement-within-the-movement. The Occupy Our Homes (OOH) model builds on community support from friends, neighbors, and local economic-justice organizations. At the OOH website, citizens can start a petition protesting a foreclosure (start2.occupyourhomes.org), with the goal of bringing the banks to the negotiating table. It only takes about 10 people to get an action going, says Melissa Byrne, who works with the Occupy Our Homes group in Washington DC.
"What's really great is that Occupy Our Homes was able to get concrete wins for people," Byrne says. "We're able to support and stand with people who are willing to say no to how they're being treated. And we have the infrastructure to grow."
The OOH group in Minnesota, for example, recently announced a big victory: after a three-year foreclosure fight and an investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General, Bank of America and Freddie Mac offered an affordable loan modification to a couple in a suburb of Minneapolis who had been at risk of eviction. The couple is "part of the 'Minnesota Five,' a group of homeowners fighting Bank of America foreclosure with Occupy Homes MN," according to an August press release. "After a mass public pressure campaign, so far three of the five have received modifications, including Ruby Brown, who won her home two weeks ago."
In Maine, where Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection superintendent William Lund says the foreclosure crisis "isn't getting any worse but it's staying level at a rate that is high," at least one OOH petition has been circulated.
Timothy Cason, a remodeling contractor, has received the support of local Occupiers as he battles the Bank of Maine to save his Bowdoinham home of 19 years. Cason, who was recently served a writ of possession (meaning that the contents of his home are now under lock and key), owes anywhere between $25,000 (to bring his loan current) to $125,000 (to pay off the loan completely). He says that because the Bank of Maine lacks the ability to produce the original loan note, its foreclosure claim is illegitimate. He has been arrested for trespassing on (what used to be) his own property, and OccupyMaine members have hosted a "Fraudulent Foreclosure Watch Party" at his house. He wants to file a lawsuit, or for bankruptcy, but is confused by the system — all the paperwork, all the case law.
"My head is swimming with everything these days," he writes in an email. "It is difficult to think clearly. The thought of losing my home hurts beyond belief."
It's for people like Cason that OccupyMainers launched the monthly foreclosure forums taking place at the State Street Church in Portland. The forums delve into homeowners' legal rights, ways to guard against foreclosure proceedings, and what to do if such a process has already been initiated. The next such forum takes place on Tuesday, October 9, at 6:30 pm.