'Occupy Our Homes' Spreads To The San Francisco Bay Area (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds of foreclosure victims and tenants' rights advocates gathered throughout the Bay Area Tuesday as part of the nationwide "Occupy Our Homes" campaign, placing pressure on local officials and vowing to remain in their homes in the face of eviction.
In San Francisco, protesters convened at Vivian Richardson's Bayview residence. Richardson became a local symbol of the foreclosure crisis when her bank tried to seize her home despite months of unsuccessful loan modification attempts. Only after supporters spent a full day sending more than 1,400 emails on her behalf did the bank place her case under review.
Since then, Richardson has worked tirelessly on behalf of fellow foreclosure victims in her neighborhood, spearheading a movement called the "Foreclosure Fighters" and holding regular meetings at her home.
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"It has been too long coming," Richardson told The Huffington Post. "We've been given the run-around from the banks and the lenders. We definitely need to be speaking up and speaking out."
Tuesday's event featured speakers from two other Bayview residents fighting eviction in the midst of complex loan modification efforts and a stagnant system. Denise Collins, a school bus driver, and Archbishop Franzo King, a church leader, both shared their stories and pledged to defend their homes.
After Richardson's meeting, dozens more demonstrators joined a march to City Hall to demand the sheriff place a moratorium on subsequent foreclosures. Sixty evictions are scheduled to take place in San Francisco on Wednesday alone.
And the numbers only get more staggering. Eleven homes on Richardson's block face foreclosure. Those houses join some 3,500 throughout the rest of the Bayview neighborhood, 12,600 in San Francisco proper and 2.1 million in the state of California.
"This is not some television movie. Although it probably seems like a scary movie," Richardson said. "These are real lives. You're closing up these foreclosed homes and leaving them to sit. If nothing else, rent it back to the homeowner until you decide what to do with it."
According to Grace Martinez, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, activists are pushing for a three-tiered strategy in San Francisco: place a moratorium on evictions while banks are investigated, enact legislation that protects tenants' rights, and create a larger platform for constituents to tell their stories and voice their concerns.
Meanwhile, across the bridge, protesters gathered at the West Oakland BART station with Just Cause (a multiracial grassroots organization promoting community leadership) and Occupy Oakland to protest the foreclosures in Oakland. In particular, the group protested Fannie Mae's aggressive foreclosure on the home of the Oakland-based Ramirez family.
At the BART station rally, Margarita Ramirez took the microphone and told her story, speaking in Spanish with a Just Cause translator.
"In 2009, my husband lost his job and we were unable to make payments on our loan. So we went to Bank of America and applied for a HAMP loan through Fannie Mae."
Ramirez said that both she and Bank of America continuously called to check on the status of the loan, but heard nothing from Fannie Mae. Finally, on April 18, 2011, Ramirez received a letter from the agency informing her that she was ineligible for the HAMP program, and had 30 days to explore other options. Two weeks later, while the Ramirez family was in the process of modifying their loan with Bank of America, they received a notification that the home had been sold -- nearly two weeks before the deadline.
"They didn't even give us a chance," Ramirez told HuffPost. "Bank of America asked them to rescind the sale, but they refused." Just Cause alleges that the Ramirez family may have been targeted for being poor, Latino and Spanish-speaking.
In a show of solidarity with the Ramirez family, protesters marched down the street to a local Fannie Mae foreclosed home on Tenth Street and Mandela Parkway that had been vacant for more than six months.
"We are here today so that a house that was vacant yesterday becomes one that has use to the community today," Nell Myhand of Just Cause told HuffPost. "90 percent of the foreclosed homes in Oakland were in the same neighborhoods where the subprime loans went. That's not a coincidence; that's egregious. We need our homes more than Fannie Mae needs one more."
Upon arrival, protesters hung banners around the home, set up community service tables in the living room and started cooking food for the hungry.
"We're going to keep occupying Fannie Mae's homes because they have homes that are vacant that could be put to good uses like housing people or providing services for people," said Robbie Clark with Just Cause. Clark said that the group would not leave the home until Fannie Mae returned the deed to the Ramirez family. "We're taking the opportunity to let Fannie Mae know that we're going to take your home until you give us back ours," she added.
Ramirez spoke with protesters and Just Cause supporters as her young son explored the home. Organizers posted a sign-up sheet for anyone who needed a place to sleep. Meanwhile, numerous police cars idled down the block. Although the scene at Tenth and Mandela was calm and celebratory, supporters said that they realized it would not remain calm for long.
Foreclosure victims and housing advocates say they are prepared to fight until the end.
"It took a lot to just say, 'You know what? I'm not going through this alone. My neighbors are going through it as well,'" Richardson said. "I had to put my shame and embarrassment behind me, leave that outside, and go fight."
Take a look at images and videos from Tuesday's events below: