By Jamie Partridge
I have lived and worked in the Northeast/Killingsworth neighborhood for decades. I’m a recently-retired letter carrier, so I’ve had a street level view of the housing crisis in this community. I know who lives in the houses. I know what kind of work they do, whether they rent or own. I’ve watched kids grow up, people get old and die. And I’ve watched a massive displacement of Black families. In the nineties I watched the gentrification of my route from 80% Black, with many renters, to 30% Black with mostly homeowners. In the last six years I’ve witnessed a massive displacement of those remaining homeowners.
The loss of family wealth in the Black community, wealth tied to equity in homes, has been stripped away at a phenomenal rate. Black and Latino communities have lost over 60% of their wealth in the housing crisis, compared to 16% for white people. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 53% of African Americans who bought homes in 2006 have already lost or will lose their homes to foreclosure in the next few years. The racist, predatory lending, which included a lot of variable rate, interest-only and balloon-payment refinancing to accomplish needed repairs, combined with the housing bubble and crash, left many families owing more on their homes than the market value, with huge mortgage payments, unable to sell the homes. Then the employment crash, which hit Black and Brown folk the hardest as the last hired, first fired; and the racial discrimination in re-hiring, plus the impact of the War on Drugs, which created a whole layer of economically disenfranchised Black men, now being called The New Jim Crow: all these factors have led to a huge foreclosure crisis in this community.
I helped organize Occupy Northeast (ONE): the Black Working Group, when my brother Nabeeh asked me to contact Black friends who might be sympathetic to the Occupy Portland movement. The foreclosure crisis and police terrorism were front and center on people’s minds. Nabeeh himself is facing foreclosure. Our group began to grow as folks in foreclosure, who were facing eviction or had self-evicted, came to us for support. I already knew Angelah Hill and other Black women whose homes are in foreclosure, as hardworking, upstanding members of the community who were just the tip of this foreclosure iceberg. These brave individuals broke through the isolation, the shame, and the embarrassment that comes with foreclosure. With the help of the group, they were willing to step up to tell their story, to reveal how they had been lied to, hoodwinked, and defrauded by the banksters and various sharks who prey on victims of the housing and employment crisis. And with the strength of the group and other groups, they will stay in their homes and put up a valiant fight.
Nationwide Efforts to Stop Foreclosures
All across the country, groups like ours are springing up. As news spreads of successful eviction resistance, as the Occupy movement grows and moves from the encampments into communities, more homeowners take heart, band together with others in crisis, and refuse to leave.
A national clearinghouse for news, strategies and tactics has emerged called Occupy Our Homes. This organization holds weekly conference calls on Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., sharing information and successes from different cities. The website has a “How to Defend Your Home” section, including legal strategies, delegations and protests at banks, auction resistance, home defense and re-occupation tactics. They also have visual resources, such as “Occupy” tape, “I’m not leaving” signs, petitions for neighbors to sign, and sample letters to banks. Their website includes victory stories from all over the country and contact information for foreclosure resistance groups all over the country.
Detroit, which has a twenty percent foreclosure rate, has a group called “Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shutoffs” which just hosted a national conference for a two-year Moratorium on Foreclosures, organizing to bring back the moratoriums that were accomplished in twenty-five states in the 1930s during the Great Depression. For example, the Michigan Moratorium Act meant that anyone facing foreclosure got an automatic five-year stay on the foreclosure, with a judge ordering a reasonable payment based on the homeowner’s ability to pay. These laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the people’s right to survive during an economic emergency superseded the contract clause of the U.S. constitution.
Those foreclosure moratoriums in the 1930s were enacted not out of the kindness of politicians but because resistance to evictions was so massive that the moratorium was already happening in fact, on the ground, with the banks getting nothing. Tens of thousands of actions against evictions were organized by Unemployed Councils, led by the communists and other radicals. Today’s Occupy movement brings echoes of those Unemployed Councils.
Occupy LA is planning to occupy 99 homes at the same time, to inspire others to do the same across the country. Occupy Chicago is planning a mass “liberation” of 99 bank-owned, abandoned homes. They are organizing to fix up these houses during the G8/NATO summit in May when thousands of Occupy activists are expected in town, calling on activists to engage with the community by participating in the clean-up campaign. Their goal is to move families into the 99 houses in June.
Occupy Minneapolis has been able to stop several foreclosures, through mass rallies or block parties at threatened homes, drawing in neighbors with weekly neighborhood forums, ringing an affected block with an orange plastic fence. Their goal is build a large enough base to bargain nationwide with the banks, to build a national union of homeowners.
In Chicago, the Sheriff has suspended evictions due to foreclosure in 2008 and 2010 because of the massive fraud associated with foreclosures. In San Francisco, the county auditor found that eighty-five percent of recent foreclosures were illegal, and the Sheriff is now considering an eviction moratorium. If we effectively organize resistance here in Portland, the Multnomah County Sheriff, an elected official, may also decide to back off foreclosure evictions.
Clearly the foreclosure resistance movement has the potential to move huge numbers of people–Black, Latino, white, Asian; working class and middle class–the 99% together into challenging this New Jim Crow, this racist housing and employment crisis caused by a corrupt and predatory capitalist system. If we stick together and support each other, we’ll win.
Jamie Partridge is secretary of Occupy Northeast, the Black Working Group. He is also active with We Are Oregon, the International Socialist Organization, and Occupy Portland.