Vacant home takeover marks second year of Occupy Homes

200 community members successfully took over a vacant home in south Minneapolis Thursday night for a veteran made homeless by foreclosure, demanding that the house be turned over to community control through a nonprofit, as the Occupy Homes movement marked its first birthday. Internationally renowned hip-hop artists Brother Ali and Chuck D of Public Enemy led the anniversary celebration.

The home reclamation came on a nationally coordinated day of action for the Occupy Homes movement, which has been lauded as one of the most successful offshoots of Occupy Wall Street. Over the past year  Occupy Homes has won renegotiations in dozens of foreclosure cases, including six in the Twin Cities.

Community members gathered at the home of Bobby Hull, a fellow veteran who won his home from Bank of America last year, for a dinner and celebration of victories of the past year. “We took over this house last year,” said Bobby, “and this year I want to take over this neighborhood.”

“I see boarded-up cribs, and I see people in the streets, and I see banks that get bigger and bigger,” said Public Enemy’s Chuck D, speaking at the celebration. “And it’s the most criminal thing that ever could happen. Never have so many been screwed by so few.”

Homelessness in Hennepin County is at a six-year-high, a near-crisis situation, and one in four people experiencing homelessness is a veteran. Nationwide, there are 3.5 million homeless people–and nearly 19 million vacant homes. “Why not put homeless people, or people who have gone through foreclosure like us, into these vacant homes?” asked John Vinje, a Vietnam veteran. “At least they’ve got somewhere safe and warm to live.”

Before he performed inside Bobby’s house, Brother Ali, who made headlines in June for his arrest defending the Cruz house, spoke movingly about the time he and his son spent homeless. “Anyone who’s lived in a house that the police have smashed through, where someone comes into your house with a gun, you know that traumatizes you for life. I still have to sleep away from the door when I stay in a hotel.”

The community then marched to a nearby home made vacant by the foreclosure crisis, where John Vinje told the story of how US Bank and Freddie Mac foreclosed on and then evicted him rather than modify his loan–in spite of their programs to help veterans. “Because of US Bank and Freddie Mac, my family is now split up in three different parts of the metro area,” he said. “It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t your fault. It was their fault. This is not the country that I fought for.”

50 people were still in the house as of 9 pm. “Whose house?” they chanted. “Our house!”

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Atlanta police detective, cancer patient asks for renegotiation at US Bank, GMAC headquarters in MN

Jacqueline Barber, a retired Atlanta police detective and current cancer patient, hasn’t been able to get US Bank and GMAC to pay attention to her case in Atlanta. So she traveled to Minneapolis to make her case at their headquarters.

We began the day by rallying in the Government Center, where Jackie told her story alongside Minnesota homeowners who have also battled US Bank. As we marched through the skyways, Jackie sought a meeting with US Bank. They accepted her 20,000 petition signatures and documents showing her ability to pay.

After delivering the petitions to US Bank, we headed to City Hall where Jackie spoke out against the use of police force to carry out evictions.

We then traveled to the national headquarters of GMAC-ResCap in a lush office park in Bloomington. GMAC assured us that there were no executives on site and that this was just an office space–which is peculiar considering it is the national headquarters of GMAC-ResCap.

A legal assistant came down to address Jackie. She apologized to Jackie on behalf of the company for what she has gone through. She accepted the petitions and promised to get them to the right person.

GMAC told KARE 11 that they would be open to an offer from Jackie to buy back the home. We will be watching to see whether they keep their word.

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Community Forum Draws Wide Neighborhood Support

Over 10 homeowners from the Central and Powderhorn Neighborhoods, and 60 community supporters, attended the first public meeting for the Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone last Wednesday at Green Central Community School.  Almost a year earlier, a similar forum drew community members to meet Bobby Hull, a Central Neighborhood Homeowner, and to discuss ways to save his home.  Since then, Bobby won back his home, along with five more Minnesota families, with the help of Occupy Homes MN.

Occupy Homes MN is returning to South Minneapolis to begin discussions on launching the Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone, an attempt to combine homeowners and renters together into a generalized movement for housing justice.  Chris Gray, an Occupy Homes organizer and Powderhorn resident, said “This is the perfect place to launch such a project.  835 families have lost the homes to foreclosure in these two neighborhoods since 2007, and more than half of our neighbors are renters.”

Two homeowners facing foreclosure stood up and announced that they were not moving from their homes.  Occupy Homes organizers hope that more will join in the struggle over the next few weeks.  In addition, plans for the December 6th National Day of Action, where Occupy Homes MN will move a family into a vacant home, were discussed as well.

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