Facing an impending foreclosure, Rosa and Juan Rico of the San Francisco Bay Area have been trying to work with their bank for months to get a modification of their loan. Without that, they could be the next family on the street as a result of the economic crisis facing the country. But the bank just kept giving them the runaround.
So Rosa and Juan, with backing from 40 Oakland ACORN members, moved themselves into a local branch of the bank on January 15th, complete with a cot and sleeping bags in order to press their demand that the bank work with them and ACORN to modify the loan and keep them in their home.
Unsurprisingly, the bank managers immediately called the police and kicked ACORN and the Ricos out pretty quickly. It's clear that when banks decide to move swiftly they can, but it is sad that with the Ricos they are swift only in saying "No!"
It is not hyperbole to say that the foreclosure crisis lies at the very heart of the broader economic collapse. The glut of foreclosed properties on the market forced housing prices into a tailspin, and banks loaded up with mortgage-backed securities and complex derivatives, unable to value or sell these assets, stopped lending to each other and the credit markets froze up, triggering the broader economic morass. A broad and successful economic recovery is impossible without directly addressing the record foreclosure rate that lies at its heart.
In 2008 2.3 million families faced foreclosure proceedings, the highest number since the Great Depression. Though the cost to individual families is hard to measure, the cost to our economy is staggering: using the Joint Economic Committee estimate of $78,000 per foreclosure, the cost to the US economy was at least $156 billion in 2008.
If we do not take any action, Credit Suisse predicts that there will be between 8 and 9 million foreclosures in the next four years, at a potential cost to the economy of $702 billion. Simply put, addressing the foreclosure crisis must be at the heart of any economic recovery plan.
However, since the crisis hit, the response has been a patchwork of voluntary, half-baked, and disjointed policies topped off with a $350 billion give-away to the companies that created this mess in the first place. Given the urgency of the crisis and the lack of attention paid to the families bearing the brunt of the economic meltdown, ACORN is taking its foreclosure campaign to a new level of militancy.
Foreclosure Campaign Strategy
The foreclosure crisis touches all aspects of the economic meltdown and as such requires a comprehensive solution. A comprehensive solution requires a comprehensive campaign. ACORN's strategy has two objectives: help affected families stay in their homes and create the political will necessary to implement a comprehensive solution in the face of the full court press lobbying effort the financial industry is running - an effort that cuts homeowners out of any recovery package.
Thus ACORN's campaign is working to put the human faces of foreclosure victims front and center while escalating the campaign tactics to include civil disobedience aimed at keeping people from losing their homes. Everything is on the table: disruption of sales, disruption of banking business, even refusing to be evicted or moving families back into their foreclosed homes. The urgency of the crisis demands no less.
Recent ACORN Campaign Activity
On January 15th, ACORN held actions in about 25 cities aimed at disrupting the sales of foreclosed homes. This included 75 people on the courtroom steps in Baltimore who stopped the sales of at least 50 homes that day and 40 people in Nassau County on Long Island who bid "$0" repeatedly as homes came up and helped at least one family keep their home. There is also good video of actions in North Carolina and of the Baltimore event.
On Jan 19th, as part of the MLK Day Call To Service, ACORN members in 30 cities organized door-to-door outreach efforts in distressed communities hit hard by the crisis looking for families facing foreclosure. ACORN volunteers served tens of thousands of families, collected petition signatures in support of Obama and ACORN's demand for a 90-day moratorium, and invited residents to join ACORN's "Homesteading" foreclosure campaign.
Austin King, the director of ACORN's Financial Justice Center, went on Fox Business News to talk about the campaign in the belly of the beast and Ben Ehrenriech at The Nation covered aspects of our work in a recently published article on fight back efforts across the country.
This week we're launching a petition asking the Obama Administration to adopt a set of short-term and long-term steps to address the crisis. Please take a minute to sign the petition and join the campaign to halt foreclosures.
But the biggest escalation of this campaign will occur over the first three weeks of February as ACORN members and local activists launch an effort to keep foreclosure victims in their homes.
Fighting Back - Homesteading and "Home Defender Teams"
Despite the refreshing change in attitude towards the plight of families facing foreclosure from the Obama Administration, it is clear that there continues to be tremendous opposition from the financial services industry and Wall Street to any plan that truly helps homeowners.
Therefore, ACORN members are launching a Homesteading effort as part of the comprehensive foreclosure campaign. Rolling out during the month of February, it will help families threatened with foreclosures to stay in their homes, or in some cases, to reoccupy their homes. ACORN members will occupy their homes in growing numbers of cities around the country in acts of civil disobedience designed to force the issue.
ACORN is working with its membership and activists around the country to build "Home Defender Teams". These teams will be prepared to mobilize on short notice to peacefully help defend a family's right to stay in their homes until a fair solution to the crisis is put into place by the new Administration. We are recruiting allies and elected officials to support our efforts and call for a full and comprehensive solution to this crisis.
We are escalating this campaign both to help save individual families' homes, but also to win a foreclosure moratorium - some needed breathing room - while we push for a comprehensive solution to this crisis.
Look for a formal announcement of the Home Defender teams at the beginning of February, complete with a link to the on-line form that people who want to ensure that hard-hit families can stay in their homes until a common-sense solution to the crisis is put in place can use to join in. In the meantime, sign the petition to the Obama administration in order to fight back against Wall Street interests blocking needed reform from being enacted.