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.

The Long-Term Strategy

While the blockades are energizing, of course CLVU and its allies would like to see systemic change so that each success does not come at the cost of a pitched battle. They would like to see permanent eviction protections for foreclosed homeowners, general acceptance and adoption of mortgage principal reduction, and banks giving foreclosed homeowners another chance to purchase at current market values.

There is some movement. In 2010, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law preventing banks from evicting tenants in foreclosed properties except for just cause. In practice, this eliminates no-fault evictions after foreclosure. CLVU and its legal partners, which include Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Greater Boston Legal Services, and Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (or MAAPL, which CLVU co-founded) worked hard for the enactment of this law. MAAPL’s legislative agenda also includes advocating for laws that would provide judicial review and that would grant owners the same protections from eviction as those won in 2010 by tenants.

The state legislature is currently deliberating on Boston’s petition to be allowed to deny a bank a permit (enforced by the state) to foreclose unless the bank first participates in mediation in good faith. In August, the Springfield, Mass., city council passed the strongest foreclosure ordinance so far in the state, which fines banks that don’t participate in mediation before a foreclosure (a move that doesn’t require state approval) and requires lenders to post a $10,000 bond on vacant properties. If the law is upheld, lenders will be required to provide upkeep to foreclosed properties or forfeit their bond. The Springfield No One Leaves Campaign, a grassroots organization modeled after CLVU, played a central role in getting these ordinances passed.

We celebrate BCC’s financial innovation because there are few, if any, parallels in which foreclosed owners are given the opportunity to buy back their homes in communities they love. But in the absence of people motivated to turn out for rallies and demonstrations or willing to engage in civil disobedience, it is doubtful that CLVU would have gained so much for its members. “Before we started this campaign there was no financing vehicle to give foreclosed owners another chance,” says Curdina Hill. “The power of organizing is motivating banks to change the way that they do business.”

The day after the eviction blockade for Drusilla Francis, U.S. bank announced that it would negotiate with BCC. BCC has now entered into an agreement to buy the property and Francis expects to enter into an agreement with BCC to buy back her property at current market value, which she can afford. Thanks to CLVU, she will not be moved.

Photo: ©Kelly Creedon

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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