Day after day, the media and government ignore an ongoing national tragedy: a tsunami of foreclosures is still sweeping millions of Americans out of their homes. As many as three million American families this year will hear a terrifying knock on the door: a law enforcement officer will tell them to get out, because a bank won't work out a fair deal and allow them to stay.
But one remarkable grandmother this month refused to go quietly.
And her brave example -- including her willingness to stand up, along with her neighbors, to a SWAT team -- finally got elected officials to intervene.
A modern day Rosa Parks, her courage may well spark a national movement.
Grandmother and longtime Rochester resident Catherine Lennon was evicted from her home on March 28.
It was a moving scene captured on the video below.
But Ms. Lennon should never have been booted out. Her problem was simple enough to solve: her husband died in January of 2008, leaving her with no will and her home ownership in legal limbo. She acknowledges missing some payments. But then, because her name was not on the house's official mortgage paperwork, she says her bank refused her checks and returned them to her. She says she has the ability to make her payments.*
But believe it or not: Fannie and Freddie wouldn't accept her money.
Fannie Mae, which now owns Lennon's home, received $90 billion in bailout money. According to Max Rameau of Take Back the Land, "In order for banks to get their mortgage insurance money, they must evict the families. Instead of a system or laws that try to keep families in their homes, banks have a perverse incentive to evict them. We should be rewarding banks that keep people in their homes, not the ones that kick people out."
Instead, according to Ms. Lennon, the bank called in the police. A SWAT team came to evict her and her 11 children and grandchildren. Neighbors stood with Ms. Lennon throughout the ordeal.
"This is not America," said one shocked neighbor.
Take Back The Land Rochester, a local group providing eviction defense, attempted to stop the eviction. Seven people were arrested, including a 70-year-old neighbor, still in her pajamas. Take Back the Land Rochester is a part of an impressive national network of volunteers who are standing on the frontlines and helping those facing eviction and foreclosure.
After Lennon's eviction, Rochester residents increased their calls and letters to their elected representatives and the media.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter intervened and got Lennon on the phone with Fannie and Freddie to begin negotiations on the mortgage. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also called Take Back the Land Rochester to offer their support.
Lennon's story is both a light of hope and a warning. In the next week or two, Lennon may get her home back. We hope to see a video of the celebration as Ms. Lennon and her family are allowed back into their family home.
But tonight Lennon and her family are in a homeless shelter. And today across the United States, more than 8,000 people will lose their home to foreclosure. They are grandmothers, husbands, sisters and aunts. They are the fabric of our community: the teachers, the janitors -- the same workers who are under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere.
The time has come in the United States where we all must be brave like the volunteers of Take Back the Land, where we all must be eviction defenders. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were originally established to help US citizens fulfill the dream of owning our homes. In a time when communities are hurting, we must stand together and demand policies that will save American families from losing their homes. We must stand together to protect and rebuild the American dream.
*An earlier version of this post stated that Catherine Lennon was making payments.
Bank of America today said that Ms. Lennon had fallen behind on her payments.
In response to the Bank of America statement, Ryan Acuff (an organizer with Take Back the Land- Rochester, the community group supporting Ms. Lennon) released the following statement:
After Catherine Lennon's husband died of brain and lung cancer in 2008, the Lennon family, understandably, experienced the same financial harship many people are facing today. As a result, Catherine did miss some mortgage payments to Countrywide/Bank of America, just as we have stated in our press releases and public statements. However, Catherine not only met with the Housing Council, the local HUD approved mortgage counselors, but attempted to engage with Bank of America. In fact, Catherine sent a payment to the bank, but the bank returned the check and refused to negotiate with her because the mortgage was in the name of her deceased husband, who did not leave a will. While Catherine was, indeed, delinquent, the fact remains that Bank of America refused her attempts to pay and efforts to negotiate modifications to her mortgage for the reasons stated above.