By LeiLani Dowell
The struggle to stop foreclosures and evictions is heating up as a sit-in to prevent the eviction of a Minneapolis homeowner and activist entered its 19th day on Aug. 25.
As ruthless lending and mortgage companies foreclose on the lives of people across the country, activists from Baltimore to California, Michigan and Minneapolis have demanded a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, while at the same time engaging in bold actions to prevent individuals from losing their homes.
Mick Kelly, spokesperson of the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, described the situation in Minneapolis to WW: “Rosemary Williams is a 60-year-old, African-American woman who’s lived in Twin Cities all her life and been an important leader within the community. She’s actually lived on the same block for 55 years and been in the same house for the last 23 years.”
Following the death of her mother, who lived with her, Williams received a 30-year adjustable-rate mortgage on the property in 2005. However, when the monthly payments almost doubled from $1,200 to $2,200, she could no longer afford to pay them.
“Millions of people in the U.S. are being foreclosed on,” Kelly said, “but what’s different and important about this story is that Rosemary decided she wasn’t going to leave. For the last year, she has been involved in building the movement to fight for a moratorium on foreclosures, which has been promoted by the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout.
Rosemary Williams, center, holds news
conference with supporters before going into
Minneapolis housing court to seek a trial on
the legality of losing her home.
“On Aug. 7, sheriff’s deputies came to her home and proceeded to throw out her family, her grandchildren. They gave her as much time to collect her belongings as it took to change the locks. About 10 minutes after the deputies left, the home was reopened and she moved back in. Today is the 19th day of a round-the-clock sit-in that has involved hundreds of people.”
Williams’ struggle has engaged her community at large. Neighbors have brought food and attended press conferences. The Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout has received calls from others facing eviction who, inspired by Rosemary Williams, plan to refuse to leave when officers arrive to evict them.
Forced to respond by the tenacity of Williams and her supporters, the mortgage companies and lenders involved—which include GMAC Financial Services, Aurora Loan Services and the bailed-out Lehman Brothers—have callously given Williams a series of paltry offers. On Aug. 11, Williams’ lawyer received an e-mail offering her $5,000 to leave. Then, after agreeing to return to the negotiating table on Aug. 13, they offered her the option of renting the house for another year—with no option of renewal.
“None of the investors or mortgage companies have given her an agreement that would keep her in the house as a homeowner,” Kelly explained. “She wants to retain ownership of a home she helped to build with her mom. She sees these offers as just ‘30 pieces of silver.’ We’re going to continue, along with Rosemary, to put heat on politicians and the mortgage companies for a just settlement, and we’ll be working with other people in foreclosure to build resistance.”
At a press conference on Aug. 8, Williams told the gathered crowd: “We can’t give up; that’s the bottom line. My mother lived through segregation and she taught me never to give up. She said always to go out with a fight, and that’s what we have to do. … These institutions—these banks, these mortgage companies—they can’t treat us like we’re economic slaves. They get our tax dollars to bail them out.”
The fight to keep Williams in her home is part of a broader struggle that is working to prevent the eviction of homeowners across the country. In San Diego, homeowner June Reyno chained herself to her home in November, with the support of union and community activists. In Detroit, activists have helped stall the evictions of Rubie Curl-Pinkins, a disabled African-American senior; Michelle Hart and her mother, who suffers from pancreatic cancer; and Anthony King, who lived at his home for 41 years before facing unemployment and underemployment.
At the same time, organizers have held meetings, challenged legislatures and held protests at home auctions to build the struggle for a moratorium on foreclosure and evictions, on both a statewide and federal level.
In a WW article last Oct. 26, reporter and Bail Out the People Movement activist Sharon Black explained: “Elevating [the demand for a moratorium] politically has the potential to allow working-class communities the confidence to proceed to more direct and immediate methods of stopping foreclosures—that is, stopping the sheriff from removing furniture and keeping families and individuals in their homes and apartments.
“The problem of housing must be looked at on a deeper and more profound level. Why should housing not be readily available to all workers? Why should such a necessity be provided solely on the basis of whether it is profitable for some landlord, bank or real estate company?
“In a country as wealthy as the U.S. there is no reason that anyone should go homeless or find it cost prohibitive to have a roof over their head. Clean, decent, safe and attractive housing must be a right for everyone!”
For more information on Rosemary Williams’ struggle, visit www.mn-peoples-bailout.org.