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Public Action Saves Homes

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Yesterday morning at 8 a.m., a truck towing a commercial size dumpster pulled up to the home of William and Bertha Garrett on the city's west side. The sight, which has become too familiar for so many Detroiters, this time had a different outcome. The driver found no place to moor the hulking vessel and left after circling the block several times. The two-men crew left because several Detroit activists led by 'OCCUPY Detroit' had blocked access to the Garrett home.

Four hours later a rally took place in downtown Detroit in front of the Detroit office of the Bank of New York Mellon Trust, with over 30 chanting and picketing protesters. The Garretts along with attorney Bob Day and Reverend Charles Williams Sr. sought the attention of bank managers on the 9th floor. Local news cameras began arriving at the Garrett house the next morning.

That afternoon, after a year-long struggle with the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co. and its representatives, they were informed that they could repurchase their house at the foreclosure price of $12,000.

Only five days earlier, the Garretts' story had successfully gotten the attention of the Michigan Citizen newspaper, when the Garretts' daughter called desperately seeking help for her parents. This blogger visited the family the very next day and got word to community activists who responded immediately to help the Garrett family remain, rightfully, in their home.

What has happened over the last five days indicates that the conversation about the affects of bank lending practices has progressed. It also shows that grassroots activism makes a difference.

The issue of rampant evictions, stemming from fraudulent foreclosures, is one that is uniting a broader coalition of activists in the struggle to stop them. The 'Occupy Detroit' folks have jolted the activist network. Their speed and energy has complemented the experience of groups like Moratorium NOW who, along with others, have been saying for years that the banks should be made responsible for the devastation of Detroit neighborhoods.

State of Michigan officials have reacted to the city's financial woes with the threat of an emergency manager who will undoubtedly continue the trend of cutting services and union contracts. But no one in the governor's office or the Office of the Treasurer Andy Dillon has mentioned the banks by name. Meanwhile major media outlets trumpet the loss of population in Detroit, ignoring the role of bank foreclosures during that decline.

With the prospect of an emergency manager looming ever closer, the link between bank foreclosures and the city's revenue loss should be examined. The decline in neighborhood stability, the loss of property value and the decline in city revenue has everyone paying more than their share. More people are realizing that every single Detroiter has been adversely affected by every foreclosure. The continuing the cycle of vacancy and destruction is being revealed in all its ugliness.

The Garretts fought to own their home for 22 years, moving from a land contract agreement to a mortgage to being renters again. Last year they went through foreclosure proceedings culminating in a sheriff's sale to the bank in Dec. 2010. The Garretts took out a mortgage in 2006 for over $120,000. The foreclosure price in 2010 was $12,000.

The Garretts attempted to buy the home from the bank for the foreclosure price. But as the Garretts raised money and made offers, banks appraisals of the property kept increasing. Finally in November, the bank told the Garretts they would need $19,000 to keep the home. The Garretts say the bank stopped communicating with them entirely after that-- except for the eviction notice they received last week.

The story of William and Bertha Garrett is moved quickly through the activist and media channels in Detroit, with uplifting results. There certainly aren't enough cameras or media outlets to cover the number of unjust foreclosures that have occured in the city of Detroit. But if there is one issue Detroiters can rally around -- a point of departure for a broader activist movement -- its found in the story of the Garretts.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated since its original publication.