A group of 15 Americans in need of affordable housing crashed a Financial Services hearing on the Hill Wednesday, where FHFA Acting Director Ed DeMarco was speaking, to protest the Bush appointee’s failed policies and demand an end to his tenure.
Caylin Crawford, a St. Paul homeowner fighting her Freddie Mac foreclosure with Occupy Homes MN, was among five arrested after the protesters interrupted DeMarco’s speech with signs reading “Dump DeMarco” and stood up one at a time to demand President Obama dump DeMarco and nominate a permanent director who will implement national principal reduction-- resetting mortgages to fair market value—at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Despite protests of ranking member Maxine Waters (D-CA), even quiet members of the group were removed from the hearing and arrested. The hearing was one of the first opportunities critics have had to be in the same room as DeMarco. It was organized as part of the New Bottom Line’s “Dump DeMarco” campaign in association with Right to the City’s “Homes for All” campaign, which is demanding a national plan on affordable housing from the President.
"DeMarco is kicking my family out of my home. Dump DeMarco! Principal Reduction now!" chanted Ramon Suero, a homeowner facing foreclosure, as he interrupted DeMarco’s speech. “Ed DeMarco’s policies are putting my three kids, my wife, and I out on the street. If the President doesn’t get rid of him, he’s responsible for putting millions of Americans just like me on street as well.” Suero was one of the five people arrested.
See video of Caylin and others interrupting DeMarco here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/clip/4391418
"I think it's criminal that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae can get away with breaking the law by withholding money they owe to the National Housing Trust Fund," said Caylin Crawford, who was released late Wednesday afternoon, "and I get arrested for calling them out on it." Caylin was arrested after yelling out in the hearing, "We need affordable housing! Fund the National Housing Trust Fund!"
“DeMarco’s actions are driving millions of Americans into foreclosure and record debt,” said Tracy Van Slyke, Executive Director of The New Bottom Line. “We are fed up, and it is time for President Obama to act on his promises to America’s middle class by dumping DeMarco and nominating a permanent director who will move principal reduction at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and stand with all homeowners and taxpayers.”
DeMarco opposes principal reduction even though it has been documented by both Fannie and Freddie as a good policy for both homeowners and taxpayers.
“Americans are hurting,” said Right to the City’s Executive Director Rachel Laforest. “They are homeless in record numbers, stuck in decaying apartment buildings owned by DeMarco’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac banks, and struggling to pay the rent. Ed DeMarco is the single biggest block to affordable and secure housing for millions of Americans. Obama can and must remove him now to allow principal reduction for homeowners to stay in their homes and contributions to the National Housing Trust Fund to create affordable rentals.”
The campaign to Dump DeMarco, which is being run by New Bottom Line, has been heating up for months. On Friday, Senator Stabenow (D-MI) joined 45 Members of Congress in urging the Obama Administration to dump DeMarco. Monday, eight Attorney Generals, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent a letter to President Obama asking him to dump DeMarco.
After a public pressure campaign through Occupy Homes MN’s Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone, Gayle Lindsey, a nursing assistant and grandmother in South Minneapolis who was facing imminent eviction, has won a modification of her mortgage from M&T Bank. Gayle’s victory came marks the seventh for Occupy Homes MN and the first in the Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone, a project that brings neighbors in the Central and Powderhorn neighborhoods together to refuse to leave their homes without a fair negotiation.
Gayle, whose renegotiation came a month after her redemption period ended, is the first victory in “the Zone.” With the help of Occupy Homes MN, she organized a series of actions, community potlucks, and press appearances. Gayle got a call sitting at her kitchen table from an executive at M&T Bank, who offered to write Gayle a new affordable mortgage. “It shows that Occupy Homes MN works,” says Gayle. “I want to move on to more victories for the community.”
Since residents last month signed a Declaration of the Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone, Gayle has won an eleventh-hour loan modification; Jessica English, a homeless mother living in a Wells Fargo-owned vacant property, has garnered stunning media coverage; and a series of actions demanding a renegotiation for Jaymie Kelly, a retired postal worker who has been paying her mortgage for 30 years, have received the attention of JP Morgan Chase executives. Three more residents are refusing to leave their homes as well. This marks a new chapter in the struggle to address the ongoing housing crisis.
Residents are now orienting around Jaymie Kelly, who could face eviction in late April. She has also publicly pledged not to move out of her home until her lender, JP Morgan Chase, agrees to work with her. Jaymie is a retired postal worker who has owned her current home for over 30 years. Last fall Chase sold the home to themselves for $81,000 at a sheriff sale--about a fifth of what Jaymie has paid for it over the years. “I want the same deal Chase gave to themselves,” Jaymie says.
Jaymie's campaign is already ramping up. Two weeks ago, she and over 60 supporters demanded a meeting with JP Morgan Chase corporate executives in downtown Minneapolis. Instead of agreeing to meet, Chase called the police. Last Wednesday, Jaymie gathered a handful of family members and staged a sit-in at JP Morgan Chase Home Mortgage Center. This time, the group intended to stay if the police came, and after two hours of waiting, the manager agreed to phone executives and discuss the case. In the end, JP Morgan Chase refused to offer Jaymie a new mortgage, even after acknowledging the gross predatory lending in her case.
Jaymie is not alone. She is supported by neighbors, residents, family members, and Occupy Homes. "That's the whole idea of the Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone," says Occupy Homes organizer Chris Gray. "It's like a union. Our power is in each other. We want the banks to bargain with our neighborhood as equals."
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The Homeowner Bill of Rights, a bill designed to prevent unnecessary foreclosures, died a sad procedural death this week. We think it’s important you understand how it happened.
DFL Senator Jim Metzen, Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and a banker in South St. Paul, refused to hear the Homeowner Bill of Rights until all the stakeholders agreed to it: in this case, both foreclosed homeowners and Wall Street banks. This strategy of obtaining consensus among the stakeholders is called “peace in the valley.”
Senator Metzen had these foreclosed homeowners evicted from his office under threat of arrest Monday rather than meet with them. You can see video here.
Of course, no one would ask the mob for approval before allowing a crime bill to advance. No one would ask everyday homeowners for approval before loosening regulations on banks.
But the DFL’s “peace in the valley” strategy in the Commerce committee means that no bills can advance in the legislature without pre-approval from corporate interests.
Metzen instead agreed to hear a different foreclosure bill that had the approval of the same bank lobbyists who have testified against the Homeowner Bill of Rights at every turn. The foreclosure bill, S.F. 1276, that passed through the Senate commerce committee late Wednesday night was pre-approved by the Minnesota Bankers Association and consisted of the following provisions:
- A mechanism to enforce federal mortgage servicing rules at the state level.
- A ban on dual tracking, the process of negotiating with a homeowner and continuing with the foreclosure process at the same time.
A ban on dual tracking was one of our demands in the original Homeowner Bill of Rights. But it will now go into effect in January 2014 in line with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations, instead of August of this year as the original legislation stipulated. It is certainly important to regulate dual tracking at the state level as well. But S.F. 1276 serves only to codify existing regulations.
Metzen chairing the Senate Commerce committee Wednesday night. Photo by Chris Juhn.
The new bill is missing these critical protections laid out in the Homeowner Bill of Rights:
- Mandatory mediation, which would require banks to meet face-to-face with the homeowner and a mediator to discuss alternatives to foreclosure.
- A private right of action that enforces the ban on dual tracking by ensuring homeowners can go to court to stop or reverse a wrongful foreclosure.
- A single point of contact, so that borrowers in foreclosure can communicate with one person at the bank through the modification process.
- Additional protections for tenants renting from landlords in foreclosure
- Additional protections for military servicemembers facing foreclosure.
The Homeowner Bill of Rights that went into effect in California in January has already decreased new foreclosure filings by over 60%. In Minnesota, foreclosure levels are still three times higher than before the crisis began. It’s well past time for systemic legislative change.
But Senate Democratic leadership and the bank lobby are holding Minnesotans hostage from the kinds of reforms that could actually slow the housing crisis.
Watching Wall Street’s influence play out at the Capitol has only strengthened our commitment to the struggle. We will keep fighting, in the streets and in the Capitol, until housing is the domain of the people, not the banks. We will fight until all Minnesotans have access to housing with dignity. We shall not be moved.