When Debbie and Robert Henry began to fall behind on their mortgage payments, the last thing they expected was an anti-eviction rally in front of their house.
Financial troubles began when Debbie Henry, 58, suffered a stroke in mid 2008, leaving her unable to keep her job. Shortly afterwards, with the family's income cut in half and medical bills piling up, the Henrys fell behind on their mortgage for the first time in their lives. In November, they received an eviction notice for January 2nd, 2012.
Robert decided to share his story on OccupyOurHomes.org, the website for Occupy-Wall-Street-inspired activists who organize to help people facing foreclosures "stand up to the banks and fight for their homes." As of Tuesday, Occupy Our Homes -- joined by members of Occupy Detroit, United Auto Workers Local 600, Moratorium NOW and other activists -- has organized and staged three rallies on behalf of the Henrys. In December, the family announced that they would refuse to leave their home, even if it meant being arrested. Their story attracted the attention both of the local press and Bank of America, who has postponed their eviction and indicated an interest in renegotiating the Henrys' mortgage.
This Tuesday marked the largest of the three rallies for the Henrys. Around 100 protesters picketed on the front lawn of the Southgate residents' home in opposition to the eviction. Then the group marched to the local Bank of America branch to stage a rally against what they see as an unjust balance of power between everyday Americans and big banks.
"I'm shocked, actually," Robert Henry, 53, told me inside his home shortly before the start of Tuesday's event. "There's a lot of help out there for people like us."
Though still unresolved, the Henrys' story offers a glimmer of hope in what may be a dim future for Michiganders. Michigan's rate of foreclosures declined between 2010 and 2011, but some analysts predict that 2012 will see a huge jump in eviction rates in the state.
Occupy Our Homes aims to fight back by illustrating what the country's epidemic of home foreclosures really is: an injustice to hardworking Americans.
The two parties currently playing hot potato with the Henrys' repeated pleas to refinance -- Fannie Mae, who owns the mortgage, and Bank of America, who sold the mortgage to Fannie Mae but still "services" it -- owe their very existence to taxpayers like the Henrys. Fannie Mae derived much of its success from an "implicit guarantee" by the federal government to bail them out in case of failure and was later taken over by the federal government. Bank of America was bailed out with taxpayers' money in 2009.
It would be one thing if Bank of America was making a strong case that the billions that we taxpayers gave them were a good investment. But in actuality, the opposite seems to be true. Just this year, the banking giant has announced 30,000 impending layoffs, attempted to impose an arbitrary $5/month fee on its customers in the midst of already booming profits, and even financed catastrophic damage to the ecosystem.
Add the potential eviction of the Henrys to that list and, whatever your views on Wall Street, it's clear that Bank of America is acting not only unjustly, but also against the well-being of the very taxpayers who recently threw them a lifeline.
"It's like they forgot we're real people," Debbie Henry said outside her local Bank of America branch, fighting back tears and receiving enthusiastic applause. "But no matter what they decide in their Wall Street offices, this is our home. We don't want a hand out; we just want a fair deal so we can keep paying our mortgage and stay in our home."
It's no secret that the Occupy Wall Street movement appeals to the left. But even Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Synder recognizes that foreclosures aren't helping the country. Snyder recently observed that "when foreclosures are prevented, homes are not vacated, families are not displaced and townships, cities and counties do not lose the tax base provided by homeownership."
Even if Bank of America and Fannie Mae rescind the Henrys' eviction notice, refinance their mortgage and allow the Henrys to keep their home, evictions of taxpayers will continue to plague the country. Not every family will be able bring rallies to their front lawns, but hopefully, the increasing momentum of the Henrys' fight is a sign of many more to come.