A loose-knit coalition of activists known as "Occupy Homes" is working to stave off pending evictions by occupying homes at risk of foreclosure when tenants enlist its support. The movement has recently enjoyed a number of successes. We speak with Monique White, a Minneapolis resident who is facing foreclosure and recently requested the help of Occupy Minneapolis. Now two dozen of its members are occupying her home in order to stave off eviction. We are also joined by Nick Espinosa, an organizer with Occupy Minneapolis, and Max Rameau, a key organizer with Take Back the Land, who for the past five years has worked on direct actions that reclaim and occupy homes at risk of foreclosure. "The banks are actually occupying our homes," Rameau says. "This sets up for an incredible movement, where we have a one-two punch. On the one hand, we’re occupying them on their turf, and on the other, we’re liberating our own turf so that human beings can have access to housing, rather than them sitting vacant so that corporations can benefit from them sometime in the future." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Bloomberg News is reporting U.S. foreclosure filings rose 7 percent in October to a seven-month high. It attributes the spike to lenders speeding up action against delinquent borrowers.
Well, we turn now to an offspring of the Occupy Wall Street movement: the Occupy Homes movement. The loose-knit coalition of activists aim to stave off pending evictions by occupying homes at risk of foreclosure when tenants enlist their support.
The movement has recently enjoyed a number of successes. In New York, Occupy Wall Street protesters occupied a derelict Harlem building’s boiler room until the landlord agreed to provide adequate heat and hot water to tenants. Meanwhile, in California, Occupy Los Angeles protesters held a vigil outside a home at risk of foreclosure, then organized a sit-in at the Pasadena regional office of Fannie Mae. The bank eventually called off the eviction and agreed to renegotiate the homeowner’s mortgage.
And in Minnesota, a woman is crediting the support of Occupy protesters in helping her gain more time to move out of her foreclosed home. Ruth Murman, a small business owner who has not received a paycheck in three years, explained how the Occupy Minneapolis movement helped her.
RUTH MURMAN: Hi, my name is Ruth Murman. And U.S. Bank was foreclosing on my property, and I needed two more weeks before I could get moved out. And they would not give it to me, until I started working with Occupy Minnesota, who has helped me now to get the two extra weeks that my father and I need to be moved out of my house. And if this is happening to you or anything similar, then come down and stand with Occupy Minnesota and allow them to help you. And even if this isn’t happening to you, come down and support Occupy Minnesota, because this is finally how things are being accomplished.
AMY GOODMAN: That was homeowner Ruth Murman explaining how Occupy Minnesota protesters helped her delay her eviction. Shortly afterward, U.S. Bank and GMAC contacted Ruth repeatedly to settle the dispute.
Well, for more on the Occupy movement around homes, we’re joined by three guests. In Minneapolis, we’re joined by Nick Espinosa, an organizer with Occupy Minneapolis who has helped local residents stave off evictions. He’s with Monique White, a Minneapolis resident who is facing foreclosure. She recently requested the help of Occupy Minneapolis, and now two dozen of its members are occupying her home. And here in New York, we’re joined by Max Rameau, an organizer with the Take Back the Land movement. For five years, Max has had—has worked on direct actions that reclaim and occupy foreclosed homes.
We want to welcome you all to Democracy Now! Nick Espinosa, talk about the Occupy movement’s focus on preventing foreclosures.
NICK ESPINOSA: Well, thanks for having me here. I’m a longtime fan, and it’s an honor to be here.
We are—we’re focusing on foreclosed homes now. We believe that it’s time for us to bridge the gap between the protests that are happening on Wall Street and the communities that are most affected by this crisis. That’s how we—that’s how we got in touch with Monique, and that’s why we’re bringing the fight into communities like North Minneapolis, which has seen about 40 percent of Minneapolis’s foreclosures, even though there’s 13 percent of the homes there. So we see this as an incredible opportunity to expand the Occupy movement and to bring it into communities and neighborhoods.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Monique White, about what happened to you?
MONIQUE WHITE: A little bit. Basically what happened was, due to—I was at my job for almost 11 years, and due to budget cuts—it was a nonprofit organization—they went out of business. My house went into foreclosure. I worked with U.S. Bank to try to modify or redo my loan in order for it to be affordable for me to keep my home. And the way I found out that my house was going into foreclosure was I called the gas company, and they basically told me that I needed to get in contact with my mortgage company. And at that time—that was like two weeks ago—I found out that my house had actually been foreclosed in January.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you reach out—
MONIQUE WHITE: Of 2011.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you reach out to Occupy Minneapolis?
MONIQUE WHITE: Basically, a couple of people put me in touch with Occupy Minnesota. I went down and basically told my story, and they were willing to reach out and help me in every way possible to keep my home.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what is happening right now? Folks are living with you in your house, Monique?
MONIQUE WHITE: Yes, ma’am, they’re basically occupying my yard and my home. And they’ve been very supportive.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response of the bank?
MONIQUE WHITE: We got a call yesterday. Basically, we more or less put on the table what we’re requesting. Right now, at this point, one of the persons that we spoke to yesterday basically said they would take everything back to the table and speak with their people. So we’re hoping to hear something from somebody by no later than next week.
AMY GOODMAN: Max Rameau, talk about the Take Back the Land movement and how this story in Minneapolis fits into the broader national story.
MAX RAMEAU: Well, there’s no doubt that this tendency that seems to be emerging with some of the Occupy sites, moving towards helping out with foreclosed homes and vacant homes, is an incredible development and is going to help a lot of people and save a lot of homes. So we’ve been—at Take Back the Land, since 2006, we’ve been identifying vacant government-owned and foreclosed homes, breaking into them, and moving homeless people into peopleless homes. And then—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I saw you in New Orleans.
MAX RAMEAU: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: After Katrina.
MAX RAMEAU: And we’re doing that there, as well. And then we’re—and then we, of course, defend the families against eviction once that happens. And we call that "liberating homes." So, right now, the Occupy movement is going to the place—is taking the fight to the people who are making this economy so bad and making it tough on so many people, and they’re occupying those spaces. The banks are occupying many of our homes. And we are removing the banks from their occupation, and we’re liberating those homes.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying, in this case, it’s already foreclosed homes that are empty.
MAX RAMEAU: Well, in some cases, yes. In other cases, foreclosed homes that are not yet empty, because the people, the families living there, haven’t been evicted yet. But either way, we’re liberating those homes for families, not occupying. The banks are actually occupying our homes. We’re in there, a liberation. I think this makes an—sets up for an incredible movement, where we have a one-two punch. On the one hand, we’re occupying them on their turf, and on the others, we’re liberating our own turf so that human beings can have access to housing, rather than them sitting vacant so that corporations can benefit from them sometime in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: And what have been the banks’ responses? Can you give us examples?
MAX RAMEAU: Well, it’s been mixed. But in many instances, with some of the Take Back the Land actions that have happened over the past five years, the police have come to execute the eviction, we’ve been there with a lot of people willing to take arrests—certainly not the numbers that we’ve seen at Occupy, but we’ve been there with people willing to take arrests—and in many instances, the police have just left. And the banks have waited for things to quiet down before they make a second run at it.
Now, with this Occupy movement ramping up, I think we have a significant chance to keep large numbers of people in their homes, which is one level. And it seems like we’re seeing some levels of success right now with that in L.A. City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston has been doing an incredible job with that. The next step, then, is going to be to secure those homes, make sure people get to stay there, liberate them, and then force that—not only force the banks to allow the families to stay in the home, but also then force policy changes that would help thousands of other people for whom we’re not doing eviction defenses.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you organize nationally?
MAX RAMEAU: We have a network of organizations. We’re not a national organization. We call ourselves a translocal network. We network local organizations. We have a nonprofit that allows organizers like myself to go and do trainings in different cities. But really, people are doing this on their own. They’re not doing it because we’re telling them to do it. They’re doing it because we just don’t have any other choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Give me an example of a house that was foreclosed, the family gone, that you, quote, "liberate," that you go into, and what the bank’s response is, and the police, the local authorities’ response.
MAX RAMEAU: So, we’ve had a few in Miami that we’ve done. And we just did one in Chicago. There’s a young lady in Chicago named Martha who we moved into a vacant home that had been vacant for quite some time in Chicago. We went there, scouted out the neighborhood—and that’s through the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign—scouted out the neighborhood, looked at the house, found the house in good condition. Then we talked to all the neighbors and said, "Look, this place is empty. We have a family that needs a place to stay. We would like to move them. It will help out the family. It’ll improve your neighborhood, because you won’t have so many vacant homes in the neighborhood. We’d like to have your support for it." And we held a press conference, moving the family in, and all of the neighbors came out and supported that. And we’re there, and the family is still there. And that’s been three months or so. And the neighbors have signed onto pledges agreeing that if the police come to try to evict that family, they’re going to block the eviction, physically block the eviction there. And that’s with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign in Chicago.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the whole issue of robo-signing, this scandal, and families demanding that banks produce the note, like, "Show us you own this house"?
MAX RAMEAU: Right. So, if you—if someone lends you some money, they lend you 10 bucks, and you owe them 10 bucks, and then, you know, a few weeks later, I come to you, and I say, "Well, where’s the 10 bucks?" you say, "I didn’t borrow 10 bucks from you. That was from someone else." I say, "No, no, no. They gave me—you know, they gave me that note. They gave me the thing, and then, here, I’ll prove it." And I write out a note saying, "You now owe me 10 bucks," and I sign it. Well, you know, there are some real questions you should have about whether or not you should actually be paying me or you should be paying the original person. There has to be some kind of way of showing that the person who you owe the 10 bucks to said that you should pay me instead of them.
And this is what’s happening with the banks. The banks are selling your note to other people, but there’s no real clear paper trail to prove that the bank who’s saying that they—that you owe them the money, that you actually owe them the money. And so, this is a very important legal tool to use, and people should use it, because the speed at which they were trying to plow through these mortgages and plow through these selling of these mortgages meant that they did not keep good paperwork, on one hand—
AMY GOODMAN: Not only that, saying—
MAX RAMEAU: And in many instances, there was out-and-out fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: Fabricating documents.
MAX RAMEAU: They were actually fabricating documents and pretending as if they had the note, when they actually didn’t. But I want to say one thing. Those are important loopholes that exist, and we should take advantage of those. In some ways, that’s besides the point. The reality is, the banks right now have the right to kick people out of their homes and make people homeless. We need to end that practice. We need to make enough housing available for people, that we’re not looking for robo-signed documents.
AMY GOODMAN: Monique White, one question—let me ask about Rose Gudiel. She received an eviction notice for her home in La Puente, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. She enlisted the support of Occupy L.A.
ROSE GUDIEL: You can just see across the street, a few months ago, that house was taken away. These people left like they—from the night. From day to night, they were no longer there. I’m not going to stand for that. I’m not just going to flee from my home. I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to fight back, because it’s not just me. It’s many hard-working families that are losing their homes. And I hope that—
OCCUPY L.A. PROTESTER: Right on! Right on! Right on!
ROSE GUDIEL: And I hope that they see this and they start realizing that this is no shame. They’re just basically taking our families’ homes. They’re taking our American Dream. They took their American Dream, and they’re not going to take mine.
OCCUPY L.A. PROTESTER: Right on!
AMY GOODMAN: When thousands started to gather outside Los Angeles City Hall to launch Occupy L.A., Rose Gudiel went down and told her story to one of its first general assemblies. The group from Occupy L.A. joined the vigil at her home, and some stayed to camp out. Eventually, she received a letter from the bank saying her eviction had been called off, and soon she had a deal for a renegotiated mortgage. Nick Espinosa, talk about Rose’s case and how Occupy Homes is right there where you are in Minneapolis, in Minnesota, and what it’s meant, as we wrap up.
NICK ESPINOSA: Well, you know, it’s amazing that—how when we shine a light, with the attention that we’ve been getting, on cases like Monique’s or Ruth’s, how quickly these banks are actually able to negotiate with homeowners, when, across the country with people who are facing this crisis, they’re completely unwilling. And I believe that—it’s become clear that, as we continue this movement, we’ll see that they can, and they will, negotiate when the pressure is on. And we need this negotiation to happen not just for Monique and not just for Ruth and other families, but we need a grand bargain with banks to change the way that they negotiate with families, because right now they’re just throwing people out on the street, and that doesn’t do anyone any good. The neighbors are losing property value. Monique will be out on the street, potentially. Our schools are losing revenue. And the banks are selling these homes back at about a tenth of the cost. You know, a house across the street from Monique sold for $9,500. And they’re not willing to renegotiate with her on a $130,000 mortgage? It’s just complete and utter madness.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Monique, what this has meant to you? Were you ever linked in with a movement before?
MONIQUE WHITE: No, I wasn’t, just because I didn’t know. It was just, you know, word of mouth and talking to people that put me in touch with Occupy Minnesota. And I am blessed. And I want to thank Occupy Minnesota for coming into my life and being supportive and believing that this is a serious cause. So, I just want to thank people in Occupy for coming to my house.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Monique White, Minneapolis resident who’s working with Occupy Minnesota—now two dozen members of its—of Occupy Minnesota are with her in her home in an effort to stave off her eviction; Nick Espinosa, with Occupy Minneapolis; and Max Rameau of Take Back the Land movement.