Chris Gray works for Minneapolis Public Schools, coordinates the Occupy Homes Canvassing Committee, and is a leading organizer in Socialist Alternative MN.
It’s been five years since the housing bubble burst, sending millions of working-class homeowners into foreclosure and economic devastation. While banks got bailed out, the hard-won assets and savings of working-class communities were wiped out. But now, with the encouragement and confidence of the Occupy movement behind them, homeowners are beginning to fight back in a serious way.
On January 7, I spoke at an Occupy Homes community forum in the cafeteria of the elementary school where I work. The room was filled with over 150 “occupiers,” teachers, and community members prepared to launch into the then-uncharted territory of foreclosure and eviction defense.
I explained how one out of ten students at my school qualify as “homeless or highly mobile.” They do not have a stable place to sleep. The effects of this permeate through every aspect of the school. Kids need passes to the nurse so they can nap, teachers keep bananas in their desks, and office staff store clean clothes in cabinets. Ultimately, these solutions are band-aids on the malignant afflictions caused by the short-sighted, profit-driven decisions of the big banks.
Since 2007, almost 3,000 Minneapolis families a year have been foreclosed on, with the crisis disproportionately impacting communities of color. It is well documented that access to housing and food dramatically affect a student’s test scores, so foreclosures undoubtedly contribute to the dramatic racial achievement gap in Minnesota, which is among the highest in the country. In addition, due to the loss of 4,000 students from the district, foreclosures have cost Minneapolis Public Schools over $150 million since 2006 (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, 2011).
In the zip code around my school, 55407, 19 percent of all homes have been foreclosed on. It is also home to Bobby Hull, who stood up against the banks with Occupy Homes MN and in February won back his home in a nationally acclaimed victory. Across town, in a predominantly African-American neighborhood where 51 percent of the homes have been foreclosed on since 2007, lives Monique White, a single African-American mother fighting to save her home from US Bank. She recently confronted CEO Richard Davis, in front of thousands of US Bank shareholders, demanding a meeting with him – which he was forced to accept.
People are quickly learning that an economic struggle against the banks turns into a political struggle against corporate politicians. Calls for a moratorium on foreclosures are growing. Most recently, community pressure pushed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote for a (non-binding) moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in the city after a study found a staggering 84% of all foreclosures there were “illegal or were missing crucial documentation” (Huffington Post, 4/11/12).
Undoubtedly this same widespread fraud and illegality exists in Minnesota, but so far government officials have mainly looked the other way. The mayors and elected sheriffs continue to send law enforcement in to evict families at the banks’ bidding, while almost no resources go to fighting white-collar crime. That’s why in Minneapolis we are demanding Mayor Rybak reprioritize police resources away from carrying out evictions. The mayor’s inaction and his public friendship with US Bank CEO Richard Davis clarify his role as an agent of the 1% in the eyes of an increasing number of people.
As people see that the toxic effects of the foreclosure crisis ooze into every aspect of life, they realize the breadth and depth of the economic crisis. But a growing number of homeowners and community members are finding a united voice in struggles like Occupy Homes.