A Neighborhood Stands Its Ground

Posted October 29, 2009 in Blog

Boston Community Organizers Fight Foreclosure and Eviction—Successfully!

In a Boston neighborhood, a nonprofit called City Life/Vida Urbana is fighting foreclosure and eviction, home by home.  Staffed largely by volunteers, including lawyers, organizers and ordinary homeowners who have been threatened with home loss, CLVU has one of the most successful rates of retaining homes for both tenants and owners in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.
How do they do it? By shaming the banks. 

Tenant Organizer Steve Meacham explains the tactics. Boston is the only place in the country where banks are selling homes back to their owners post-foreclosure at their actual value. The process of pressuring the banks to do the right thing begins with a weekly Bank Tenant Association Meeting, where those threatened with home loss gather and are counseled and encouraged to advocate for themselves by the CLVU staff, and volunteer lawyers. They learn their rights, develop solidarity, and are taught about the political nature of the problem, so that they don’t blame themselves. Protests and public actions are planned.  The weekly meetings of the Bank Tenant Association are now often as large as 100 people.

Meacham talks about creating the “moral space for people to feel like they have the right to resist {eviction}.”  His organization has an extraordinary track-record: 95% of the tenants who come to them for assistance are not evicted, while just the opposite is true for those who receive no help.  “Faced with a combination of long drawn-out legal defense and public protest, the banks are very often choosing to negotiate and settle with us,” says Meacham.

When CLVU threatens a public protest, called an Eviction Blockade, the owner, tenants and supporters risk arrest to call attention to the eviction. Local politicians begin calling the bank (owner of the foreclosed property) to encourage them to negotiate and avoid the bad publicity.  Most of the time, a deal is made and the residents get to stay in the home. Increasingly, banks have been willing to negotiate deal with former owners to sell them back their properties at their real value—which is usually about 35% of the loan value.
Watch Steve and his team of staff, volunteers and tenants go through the process of defending homes here on Bill Moyer’s Journal {link here}.