Minneapolis, MN--Thanks to 116,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, a campaign with Occupy Homes MN, and widespread community support, Woodlands National Bank President Ken Villebro will meet with foreclosed homeowner Anita Reyes Wednesday afternoon.
“I think we can change the way banks deal with people, get them to operate on a more personal level, an untraditional way of keeping homeowners in their homes,” said Anita, remembering Woodlands’ motto.
Homeowner of 17 years Anita Reyes’ problems began when her employment hours were cut. Then uncontrolled diabetes plus vertigo reared its ugly head, making her problems even more complicated, and she fell three months behind in mortgage payments. She offered to make current payments plus half a payment until the balance was satisfied, but the bank refused. Foreclosure was imminent. An eviction notice was posted in June.
Anita reached out to Occupy Homes MN and spoke with organizer Anthony Newby, who told her, "I won't give up if you don't." These words gave Anita her first words of hope.
After Anita's eviction notice was posted, she made calls to the bank with the support of Occupy Homes MN. Shortly afterward, she received a call from bank Vice President Cindy Koonce with a rent-to-own offer. But the next day she was told the offer was off the table—ostensibly because she had called four minutes too late. Anita and supporters headed to Woodlands National Bank’s headquarters in Onamia to ask for a meeting with Cindy Koonce. Instead of arranging a meeting, the bank called the police.
Troy Amlee, a member of the American Indian Movement who supports Anita's campaign, told her, "I see homeless people every day. I don't want to see you homeless."
When Anita returned to the Minneapolisbranch of Woodlands Bank last week, carrying over 100,000 signatures from a petition on Change.org, the bank quickly changed its tune and set up a time for Anita to meet with President Ken Villebro.
“After enduring months of health issues complicated by the stress, worry and depression brought on from possibly facing homelessness I cry in relief…my health issues have been resolved, I am working full-time and can afford mortgage payments AND finally Woodlands National Bank is going to negotiate with me and give me my dreams, my memories and most of all my security back!” exclaimed Anita.
St. Paul, MN – Paul Lelii, a single father, attorney for his private law firm, and St. Paul homeowner, has been offered a principal reduction loan modification by Bank of America.
The news came after a targeted campaign Occupy Homes MN led against Bank of America, urging them to renegotiate with Paul and four other homeowners. So far four of the five have won renegotiations, including Ruby Brown of north Minneapolis and Frank Clark and Kristina Darrington of Coon Rapids.
“Paul has shown courage, strength and passion for eliminating foreclosures throughout St. Paul,” said Lauren Siegel, an organizer with Occupy Homes MN. “His victory shows that banks can and will stop foreclosure when they face enough pressure to do so.”
Paul bought his home in 2006 and spent countless hours making beautiful renovations to the home. But soon family health concerns and the challenges of running a private law practice in a tough economy made finances difficult. In February 2011, Paul suffered a heart attack and missed a mortgage payment. He immediately reached out to the bank to discuss a modification, but was unable to get a straight answer from Bank of America and US Bank.
Between the two banks, Paul submitted form after form and made countless calls to no avail. He was frustrated by their lack of response. “If I’m a lawyer and if I can’t fight them,” he wondered, “how can anybody else?”
Paul took the Occupy Homes pledge to remain in his home until he was offered a good faith negotiation. He has built support from friends, family, neighbors, city officials, Occupy St. Paul, and the Frogtown group Arts Resisting Foreclosure. “I’m doing this for my daughter Olivia,” said Paul. “I can’t disrupt her life with a move and I want to leave this house to her.”
Paul hopes to use his experience and legal skills to set up a Dispute Resolution Center to facilitate better communication between banks and foreclosed homeowners. “This is just one victory, but I’m not stopping here,” said Paul. “We need to set a precedent in St. Paul: no more foreclosures!”
Photos credit Daniel Yang
Housing justice activists from around the country joined community members, urban gardeners, and hip hop artists for a tree-planting ceremony and concert at Monique White’s north Minneapolis home Wednesday night. White was one of the first homeowners in the country to work with the Occupy movement to fight a foreclosure and pending eviction. Monique won her home after a seven-month campaign of community pressure against US Bank and Freddie Mac.
Forty-five housing justice activists in Minneapolis for a national Occupy Homes conference were excited to meet Monique, who has become a folk hero of the Occupy movement. “Monique White’s story has inspired people, certainly Occupy Wall Street in New York, and frankly all across the country,” said Han Shan, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street. “This work exemplifies the very best of Occupy Homes organizing.”
Fellow Northside foreclosure fighter Ruby Brown, who won her house two weeks ago, joined Monique in a ceremony planting a plum tree behind her garden. “The plum tree symbolizes hope and a commitment to stay rooted in our communities,” said Jillia Pessenda, an organizer with Occupy Homes MN and urban farmer. "It reminds us what is possible when we stand together to manifest the change we believe in. It is also a testament to Monique and her courage and grace that helped inspire the Occupy movement into neighborhoods across the country."
The crowd of 200 raised fists in celebration when Frank Clark, a member of Monique’s union who helped build the 35W bridge, and his wife Kristina announced their own victory: Bank of America and Freddie Mac had agreed to renegotiate their mortgage after a four-month campaign with Occupy Homes, one day after their redemption period ended. “I’m proud to stand with my fellow laborer Monique,” said Frank, “and know we will both be in our homes for the rest of our lives.”
Internationally renowned hip hop artist Brother Ali, who was arrested in June in part of an ongoing Occupy Homes effort to save the Cruz home in south Minneapolis, hosted the event and gave a surprise performance at the end of a lineup that featured Toki Wright and I Self Devine.