So how did a local, traditional tenants’ rights organization end up in the national spotlight and in the thick of the foreclosure crisis? While CLVU organizers could see the problem and the pain of people caught in the middle of the foreclosure crisis, they did not immediately see a role for their organization. Organizing homeowners to prevent a foreclosure means getting entangled in casework, which was not their strong suit, while there were other organizations helping homeowners in trouble. Typical organizing campaigns balance smaller tactical victories with larger strategic objectives, and it was unclear to CLVU what they would be in this case. CLVU decided to stay out of it.
But Steve Meacham, a community organizer who has worked for CLVU for 11 years, noticed growing numbers of tenants and owners being evicted from their foreclosed homes in no-fault evictions in 2007 and 2008, and he saw an opportunity. Massachusetts is one of 30 states that does not require judicial review for foreclosure, meaning banks can foreclose on a property without going to court. In its long and successful history, CLVU had learned how to fight evictions. Here was a clear opportunity to “collectivize,” to use Meacham’s word, the individual struggles of homeowners. CLVU decided that it had a promising course of action: organize owners and tenants after foreclosure and before the inevitable no-fault eviction.
This was a tactical innovation. Many organizations work with homeowners to prevent foreclosures, but post-foreclosure organizing played to CLVU’s strengths. They could organize rallies, stage actions, and use public relations as a weapon against financial institutions, and they could do this using symbols and art, repurposing the sword and shield for bank tenants.
The post-foreclosure campaign gives CLVU a way to merge short-term gains, long-term demands, and political education. It has three goals: Prohibit no-fault evictions of tenants and foreclosed owners, with an interim goal being to block as many individual evictions as possible. Force banks to negotiate with foreclosed owners who want to buy back their properties. And secure mortgage principal reduction to current market value, rather than the bubble-inflated price created by the speculative boom, for owners both foreclosed and in danger of foreclosure. Financial institutions see threats to their way of doing business behind each of these three demands.