Riot Charges Against Anti-Foreclosure Activists Provoke Protest in City Hall

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Community supporters rally in City Hall to support peaceful anti-foreclosure activists who have been charged with rioting.

Chants of “drop the charges” echoed through City Hall this afternoon as 60 community supporters rallied to demand City Attorney Susan Segal drop all charges against anti-foreclosure protesters from the Occupy movement. Afterwards supporters packed the courtroom and overflowed into the hall as 11 defendants refused to plead guilty to their charges at the pretrial hearing.

On May 30, fifteen community supporters were peacefully arrested at the foreclosed Cruz family home as many linked arms and sat on the front stoop. Though they were originally charged with trespassing, the city decided to escalate the charges. 14 of the protesters arrested that day, as well as another arrested during a 4:00am raid on the Cruz family’s home,  now face charges of third degree riot, a gross misdemeanor, along with four other misdemeanors–which carry a total sentence of up to 2 years in prison and a $7,000 fine.

“The Minneapolis City Attorney’s decision to tack on charges of Third Degree Rioting–merely for being present at the Cruz home–is an outrageous abuse of the charging function,” said Michael Friedman, Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center. “The general public certainly knows what a riot is and what it isn’t; a law school education is not required.”

 

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VICTORY!: North Minneapolis Woman Wins Home from Bank of America After Five-Year Foreclosure Battle

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Ruby Brown with members of her family in front of the north Minneapolis church where Ruby serves as a deacon.

After a five-year battle over now-illegal lending practices, a bank error that dropped her from a loan modification program, and a campaign with Occupy Homes MN, north Minneapolis homeowner Ruby Brown has received a mortgage renegotiation from Bank of America, just days before her home was to be auctioned off.

“This is an incredible victory for Ruby, who has been in the struggle for so long. It’s also something that can and should happen for everyone facing the loss of a home right now,” said Susan Kikuchi, an organizer with Occupy Homes MN.

Ruby, a hairdresser whose home of 17 years is the center of her family life, fell into foreclosure  after years of struggling with inflated payments in an adjustable rate mortgage, a predatory lending practice which is now illegal. She eventually received a trial modification and complied with its requirements for 12 months, but was dropped from the program anyway.

As though her struggle with the banks weren’t enough, Ruby’s home was damaged by the tornado that swept through North Minneapolis in 2011. Despite the uncertain future of her home, she threw herself into the project of repairing the home, a pillar for her family and a symbol of her community’s resilience despite disaster.

“Had it not been for my faith, I could not have made it through,” said Ruby, a deacon in her north Minneapolis church. She found herself relying on comforting words from a Muslim friend: “God is bigger than Bank of America.”

When Ruby began working with Occupy Homes MN and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change 6 months ago, she felt her shame dissolve. “It generated a fight in me,” she said. “I didn’t realize there were so many people in the same situation, that it wasn’t just me.”

Last week Occupy Homes MN held a week of action demanding that Bank of America renegotiate with the “Minnesota 5,” five homeowners who can all afford to pay their mortgage. The week of action included a call-in drive, a meeting with an executive in Apple Valley, and a banner drop over a busy Minneapolis intersection.

On Friday, the last day of the week of action, Ruby learned that her sheriff sale, scheduled just a few days away, had been canceled, and that her loan modification had been approved. “My first reaction wasn’t to laugh, jump, and shout–I had an outburst of tears of relief that justice had prevailed,” said Ruby. “I felt both joy and pain, because everyone should get this deal.”

North Minneapolis, where Ruby lives with her family, was targeted by large financial institutions with predatory lending practices and has suffered more from the foreclosure crisis than any other area of Minnesota. In some neighborhoods more than half of all homes have been foreclosed since 2007.

Ruby’s family is the fourth to win a modification from the bank to save their home with support from their community and Occupy Homes MN, after Bobby Hull, Monique White, and Colleen Mckee Espinosa.

“This is an American epidemic,” said Ruby. “The politicians and government need to have an antidote so everyone can be vaccinated. If they can do it for me, they can do it for everyone.”

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Report: Principal Reduction Needed to End Foreclosure Crisis; Would Boost Economy, Benefit Homeowners and Lenders

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Minneapolis — A coalition of community organizations, faith groups and Occupy Homes MN Thursday released a report arguing that homeowners, the local tax base, the economy and banks themselves would all benefit if lenders reduced the principal on underwater mortgages and did more to help borrowers avoid unnecessary foreclosures.

“This was a crisis caused by a system of corruption that preyed on the vulnerable and people of color. It was not caused by individual homeowners who have suffered the greatest burdens and are left with too few solutions. We need bold action from our policymakers from the local to the national – implementing principal reduction and foreclosure mediation to protect our families and rebuild our communities,” said Rev. Paul Slack, Pastor, New Creation Church Minneapolis and President of ISAIAH.

The report, Wasted Wealth:  Why Banks Should Fix Mortgages Instead of Foreclosing On Homes looks at a sample of recent foreclosures in Minneapolis and statewide data and concludes:

  • Lenders with a history of improper mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices account for at least half of the foreclosures in Minneapolis.
  • On average, banks lose more than $93,400, or half of the principal they are owed, when they foreclose on a home in Minneapolis. Banks could forgive the principal instead, keep many more people in their homes, and still come out ahead.
  • Underwater homeowners in Minneapolis would need an average principal reduction of 35 percent to get right side up, significantly less than the loss banks incur on foreclosures.
  • If banks reset mortgages to current interest rates and market value, they could save underwater Minnesota homeowners an average of $365/month on their mortgage payment, pumping more than $402 million into the local economy every year, which would help create more than 5,941 new jobs annually.

“It is our hope this study proves to policy makers and the wider community the necessary and immediate steps we must take to end the housing crisis that is tearing up our communities. We call on legislation that immediately halts foreclosures, demand principal reduction for all underwater homeowners,” said Jillia Pessenda Bovino, a spokesperson for Occupy Homes MN.

The report recommends steps lenders, homeowners and all levels of government could take to reduce foreclosures and end the destructive mortgage crisis caused by reckless and predatory banking practices.

“We’re not asking for a handout. We’re just asking banks to start working with us. My loan modification proves that they can fix these problems when they choose to. Now we need them to offer the same option to others in my position. We need these bankers to start acting like community members and not greedy crooks,” said Monique White, a north Minneapolis homeowner who worked with Occupy Homes MN and the community organization Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) on a successful campaign to get U.S. Bank to renegotiate her home mortgage and allow her to avoid foreclosure.

ISAIAH, Jewish Community Action, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, and Occupy Homes MN jointly released the report.

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