The Sword and the Shield

Boston's City Life/Vida Urbana is finding success by turning conventional wisdom on its head and entering the picture after a foreclosure has taken place.

It was a hot August day when more than a hundred people gathered outside Drusilla Francis’s home in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Signs emblazoned with “We Will Not Be Moved” and other candid sentiments regarding bank behavior were on display as two policemen looked on. A constable, equipped with a moving van and orders to evict the 60-year-old Francis and her two foster children, talked frantically on the phone to his client, U.S. Bank. Perhaps he did not expect to be challenged.

Several lawyers on Francis’s side explained to the constable that he did not have the appropriate paperwork to evict Francis, a Central American immigrant, and eviction was avoided that day. Had he brought the proper documents, the policemen would have walked through the marching protesters to arrest various the members and allies of City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU), an affordable housing and tenants’ rights organization, who had volunteered to stand peacefully in the way of eviction. The eviction and the arrests, had they occurred, would have been captured by news cameras and print reporters, and it would have been another devastating loss for a family in bank foreclosure. But all that was averted thanks to collective action and resistance that let the banks know that they could no longer easily upend peoples’ lives and avoid public relations debacles.

Tisa Taylor, whose home was saved by a similar action, but not before her father suffered a devastating stroke soon after the family home was foreclosed upon, explained why she took a day from work to attend the blockade: “I keep coming back to these actions to help because CLVU was there for us. I don’t want to see my neighborhood boarded up. I want to see my community flourish.”

CLVU has long employed a paired organizing-legal defense method known as The Sword and the Shield to save tenants from displacement due to harassment and attempts at gentrification. Recently, these tactics have been adapted and applied to prevent evictions of foreclosed owners and their tenants, creating public relations nightmares for large financial institutions.

1 COMMENT

  1. Melvyn Colon’s vivid description in “The Sword and the Shield” (12/14/11) of ordinary people trying to keep their small portion of the American dream is a powerful testament to perseverance.

    Colon’s article documents the adoption of a post foreclosure strategy that challenges the legal and financial forces who service financial institutions. The genius behind this approach is a three step strategy which engage the victims and ultimately the banks on moral and business terms. Why would local banks open themselves to further public scorn when they can simply sell the foreclosed property to a responsible financial intermediary who will then sell the property back to the former owner with an affordable mortgage?

    The several families mentioned by Colon developed a workout template by which eviction is prevented while incorporating common sense business practices.

    Sadly though, and despite State legislation that will further the work of City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU), the effort still leaves thousands of families without the necessary support to prevent eviction. Both Federal and State regulatory agencies need to force financial intermediaries and servicing agents to implement a genuine plan that keeps homeowners in place.

    Colon concludes by celebrating the organizing and financial prowess of CLVU and Boston Community Capital as a model for impacted communities throughout the US.

    Indeed, this innovation should be replicated giving hope and a roadmap for protecting families and their communities

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