Yesterday marked the launch of ACORN's Home Defenders Campaign, which seeks to use civil disobedience techniques, complemented by mass communication (texts, emails, social networking, etc.), to cull wide grassroots support for victims of foreclosure in at least 22 cities across the nation.
Under the leadership of civil rights movement veterans and grassroots activists, especially from African American and Latino communities, homeowners and volunteers are training -- and if need be, preparing to go to jail -- to effectively blockade local sheriffs who attempt to evict families from their homes. And for families who are not yet evicted, the campaign intends to work with lenders to renegotiate their mortgages, creating a two-pronged approach to cover all degrees of misfortune.
Though the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s resonates strongly with the current campaign and many of its members, the New York Times notes that it is even more reminiscent of a movement ACORN led in the 1980s:
Acorn's strategy is modeled on a movement the group led in the 1980s, when squatters occupied and set out to renovate thousands of abandoned city-owned buildings in New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, among other cities. The motivation was to solve what Ms. Lewis has called "the working family's housing crisis."
In cities like Orlando, Fla., which has one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates -- and Boston, Houston, Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz. -- Acorn organizers have been creating networks to alert a homeowner's neighbors when an eviction has been scheduled or deputies are on the way. Some volunteers will summon friends and relatives to converge at the home, while others will be in charge of notifying the news media. Organizers are also recruiting lawyers willing to defend for no fee those who are arrested.
Citizen journalist Jerry Waxman, reporting for the Huffington Post, has been closely following ACORN's training and preparation in Orlando, specifically regarding foreclosure victim Inez Batista of Avalon Park. According to Waxman:
Avalon Park is a planned community with single and multi-family homes, apartments and retail enterprises ranging from $200,000 to over $500,000. Inez Batista's husband had a construction business in the early 2000s and by 2004 the business was doing well enough for the family to purchase a home, before the flop of the construction industry. However following the drop in business, Inez and her husband both found jobs and yet still fell behind in their mortgage payments. They received notification of foreclosure in August 2008.
The Batistas then hired Advantage Mortgage of Miami who claimed that they could help get a modified agreement with Countrywide. Advantage required an immediate payment of $1500.00 up front in certified funds. The Batistas paid the money and waited, but Advantage never contacted Countrywide about refinancing. Instead, they talked to them about selling the property. The Batistas then called Countrywide directly to see if they could get a modification and were told to contact a firm called The Home Team. They also went to court to get an extension, which will keep them in their house legally until March 19. When the modification documents were delivered, the monthly payments far exceeded the original mortgage. The Batistas refused to sign and are now facing foreclosure.
The first Home Defenders project will be to rally around and protect Inez Batista and her family. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, ACORN canvassed the neighborhood to gather community support, and on Thursday the Bastista family hosted the campaign's kickoff event at their house. There are several thousand homes in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties that are being foreclosed, so this is merely the beginning.
The Home Defenders Campaign continues to strengthen as the housing crisis metastasizes because, like the Batistas, many families now being foreclosed upon are true victims of the crisis, rather than victims of their own financial negligence. In addition to the campaign's wide support thus far, there have actually already been relative victories elsewhere. Citizen journalist Nathanial Bach, reporting for the Huffington Post from Los Angeles, has the story of Civil Rights veteran Millicent "Mama" Hill, who was saved from outright eviction by the campaign's efforts.
A small crowd of homeowners and volunteers, some of whom traveled over 100 miles to attend, gathered Monday night in ACORN's Los Angeles office. There, they were instructed on the Home Defenders Campaign from, among others, Millicent "Mama" Hill, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who participated in the Nashville, Tennessee sit-ins. Speaking to the group, Ms. Hill told of her experience with nonviolent civil disobedience in the 1960s and drew parallels to ACORN's current plans to protect families who have been foreclosed upon. "To this day, I have kept a rock that was thrown at me as a reminder of what we accomplished there," she said.
ACORN Communications Director Charles Jackson encouraged the group to help ACORN disrupt a foreclosure auction this week in Pomona, California. He described how at Ms. Hill's foreclosure sale, protests from ACORN volunteers succeeded in discouraging potential buyers, and that the eventual buyer has been cooperative and is currently renting the home to Ms. Hill.
Millicent "Mama" Hill at launch of Home Defenders campaign photo by Jim Stevenson
The embrace of mass communication, paralleling the Obama campaign machine, is one of the most crucial developments for ACORN's approach. Foreclosure victims who are threatened with eviction do not know when exactly the hammer will fall. Thus, the 'rapid response' element of the Home Defenders Campaign will be vital if volunteers are to confront local authorities in time.
The fact that a number of sheriffs around the country have, of their own volition, already taken a stand against evictions bodes well for how ACORN's efforts will be received. For example, Sheriff Thomas Dart in Cook County, Illinois made national news when he refused to evict any more families who were renting homes whose owners had been foreclosed, and who were completely oblivious to their impending plight. Meanwhile, Sheriff Warren Evans in Wayne County, Michigan last month chose to stave off all evictions, pending a federal plan to address the situation.
That plan came this week with President Obama's announcement to pour $275 billion into preventing home foreclosures. The plan seeks to encourage lenders to work with foreclosure victims who are more victims of circumstance than their own mistakes. It seems to complement the Home Defenders Campaign's efforts to do the same because, though it is completely voluntary for lenders, organizations such as ACORN will be ready to impose the necessary prodding on any recalcitrant banks, as was demonstrated in the case of Millicent Hill in Nathaniel Bach's report.
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