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  February 22, 2013

Detroit Anti-Eviction Campaign Keeping Families in Their Homes

Community groups and Occupy Detroit using "any means necessary" to save homes from foreclosure
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JAISAL NOOR, FSRN AND TRNN: In Detroit, Michigan, the city many consider the epicenter of the nation's subprime and foreclosure crisis, banks continue to evict residents from their homes at an alarming pace. But over the past year, a growing grassroots movement has blocked evictions and kept families in their homes.

Now some of those helped by the movement are taking the reins of its leadership.

JERRY CULLORS, DETROIT RESIDENT: This is my home here. I'd like to welcome you to it. You know, come on in and see how it is.

NOOR: Detroit resident and retired factory worker Jerry Cullors is proud of the home he shares with his wife and daughter.

CULLORS: We bought this home, like I say, some 23 years ago, and we did a lot of improvements on it here.

NOOR: Cullors added an expansion to his home, redid the floors, and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. But after living in and fixing up his home for more than two decades, Cullors arose to a jolt the morning of October 31 last year.

CULLORS: We woke up, and a dumpster was sitting right on the side of the house over here. You know. We were shocked about it, 'cause we didn't know anything about it. We never received anything in the mail or by phone as to what was going on. You know.

NOOR: Under a 2007 Detroit city ordinance, a dumpster must be on site for evictions to proceed.

Cullors knew he had to act fast, so he reached out to a neighbor who had faced similar difficulties, who put him in touch with Occupy Detroit and a group called the Eviction Defense Committee. Dozens showed up that morning to help block the eviction.

CULLORS: Before the bailiff came up, while the dumpster was sitting there, we had a bright idea as to the way we were going to stop them from using the dumpster was to fill the dumpster up. And so we said, what are we going to fill the dumpster up? So we started looking around. We had bags of leaves out here, all of them down in the neighborhoods. So we got all the bags from all around the streets around here, and we filled the dumpster up with bags of leaves so they couldn't use it.

NOOR: By filling the dumpster with leaves and using their bodies to block the movers, Cullors and his supporters succeeded in blocking the eviction. They then held rallies and marches and successfully pressured Bank of America to refinance the mortgage. Cullors has now become a leader in the anti-eviction movement and chaired a recent meeting where many facing eviction come to seek community support.

Among them was Rashida McDuffy, who shared the story of how her aunt was recently evicted from her home.

RASHIDA MCDUFFY, DETROIT RESIDENT: Well, on Friday she received a letter saying that she would be evicted. It was not signed by a judge. It didn't have a date. It was just kind of haphazardly sent to her. And on Tuesday, this coldest day, she was greeted by a bailiff and several men who proceeded to put all of her things outside.

NOOR: Lawyers and activists at the meeting said because she was a renter, McDuffy's eviction was illegal, and the group vowed to support her case.

Despite the challenges of keeping up with Detroit's high rate of foreclosures—currently about one in every 500 homes—activists have achieved a number of victories. They have helped family caregiver Jennifer Britt, who had worked for nearly two years to save her home yet still was served with an eviction notice. Community organizer William Bryce says dozens of residents and neighbors held vigil on her property and used their vehicles to prevent the delivery of a dumpster.

WILLIAM BRYCE, DETROIT COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: We had cars prepared to block the dumpster here at the corner. We had cars prepared to block the dumpster if it came around off Grand River. We had cars down at the other corner prepared to—we had cars down at the other corner prepared to block the dumpster. And we had cars all the way along here on both sides of the street.

NOOR: The activists prevented the eviction, Britt eventually secured a new mortgage, and like Jerry Cullors, she's now helping save other people's homes. Bryce says people from labor, religious, civil rights, and peace groups have all participated in the anti-eviction movement.

BRYCE: And it's an incredible cross-section of people who have come together in ways that I have not seen in this city before.

JIM DWIGHT, DETROIT HOUSING ACTIVIST: It's that they see it every day when they come home. That's why they get together.

NOOR: Jim Dwight is a member of the anti-eviction campaign and president of his community board.

DWIGHT: What can we do? We've got to—I can't do one thing alone. But with a group of us, we can do things, and we are doing things, and we are being successful. We haven't lost a house yet.

NOOR: Dwight says at least 20 homes have been saved from foreclosure in the past year.

Housing rights advocates in Detroit aren't just stopping individual foreclosures; they are suing financial institutions for refusing to modify loans. One suit filed last July targets the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae, and what's called non-judicial foreclosure. Plaintiffs claim that it's unconstitutional to foreclosure on homes without a hearing. Attorney Jerry Goldberg with the group Moratorium Now! filed the lawsuit.

JERRY GOLDBERG, ATTORNEY, MORATORIUM NOW!: —in court, we've been [incompr.] because the government now controls these loans, everyone should have the right to a hearing before their home is foreclosed upon. In 25 states, including Michigan, we have what's called non-judicial foreclosure. All they have to do is post a notice of foreclosure on your door, and then wait four weeks, and they sell your home [incompr.] You never get a hearing. You know. And when you try to go to court afterwards, they say, well, you've already lost your home, it's too late.

NOOR: While that case makes it way through the judicial system, residents of Detroit, including Jim Dwight, say they'll continue their work to keep people in their homes.

DWIGHT: We have come together and really rolled up our sleeves and said, we are going to go to court, we are going to go to these homes where people are potentially going to be thrown out of their homes. We are not going to let anyone take away someone's home. We're not going to do it. We're just drawing a line in the sand. And we're willing to go to jail.

NOOR: Activists launched a new campaign this month calling on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stop all eviction and foreclosure proceedings and negotiate with homeowners on principal reduction. They say Fannie provided relief to Hurricane Sandy victims, and Michigan families are victims, too, "of mass unemployment and mortgage banking fraud."

Reporting for the Real News and FSRN this is Jaisal Noor in Detroit.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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