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A sign of rising anger

Evictions halted by some sheriffs

Published Oct 24, 2008 8:24 PM

Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart made national headlines Oct. 9 when he announced his office would no longer evict renters after property owners go into foreclosure. Many renters have no idea that the owner is in foreclosure. They pay their monthly rent and find out they are being evicted when a dumpster arrives and the sheriff comes to throw them and their belongings out on the street.

In an op-ed piece in the Chicago Sun Times, Dart said this scenario occurs “too many times” and renters often have “no fair warning that they were about to be thrown out of their home.”

Dart blamed this situation squarely on the banks and mortgage lenders, which under state law are required to know the occupants of mortgage-held properties and notify them in advance of a pending foreclosure. Instead, the banks disregard the rights of tenants and, said Dart, “expect taxpayers to pay for that investigative work for them. That stops today. We won’t be doing the banks’ work for them anymore.” (www.suntimes.com)

Dart stated: “I’ve come to this point after spending the last year trying to work with the banking industry, even asking the Legislature to pass a bill requiring them to—at a minimum—let us know if any children, disabled or senior citizens live at the home, so we can connect them with social services. That effort was killed by banking industry lobbyists.”

Dart announced that he would resume evictions on Oct. 20 after Cook County and court officials agreed that lenders must note the existence of renters when they file eviction petitions in court and provide proof that all renters have received a 120-day notice of eviction. Sheriff’s spokesperson Steve Patterson said, “We’re not doing it” if mortgage holders don’t abide by the new rules. Dart’s office will also add a social worker to its staff to help renters find new housing and work with a financial crimes unit to investigate mortgage fraud. (progressillinois.com)

In Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Robert J. Pickell announced a two-week moratorium on evictions carried out by his office. Undersheriff James Gage stated: “[We] looked at what Sheriff Dart had done and we realized it’s happening here too. ... This is a depressed enough area here around Flint. There is a lot of unemployment and this is just another kick in the teeth.” (Detroit News, Oct. 17)

The sheriffs of Oakland and Macomb counties, both part of metropolitan Detroit, are considering similar measures. Last year, metro Detroit had the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S.

In Philadelphia, Sheriff John Green has refused to hold court-ordered auctions of foreclosed homes. “My staff and I watch the suffering every day and witness the heart-wrenching scenes as families ... face eviction.” (www.phillysheriff.com)

In March 2008, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the sheriff and the Court of Common Pleas to impose an indefinite moratorium on foreclosure sales.

Sheriffs and bailiffs, like all police and the courts, are part of the repressive arm of the capitalist state. Their job is to protect the private property of the corporations and wealthy and maintain the status quo. Sure, some may be genuinely saddened by having to evict people, but more likely than not they are driven by another, unstated motivation—fear of the masses rebelling.

There is growing anger by the people against the banks and financial institutions that have been bailed out by the government. These are the same banks that caused the housing foreclosure crisis devastating millions of working families around the U.S. Now the victims of this catastrophe are expected to foot the bill for the billionaires who caused it. How soon will it be before this untenable situation explodes?

Sheriffs are elected officials who are on the frontlines of the eviction process. The anger of people who have lost their homes and face unemployment, low wages and skyrocketing costs for life’s necessities can’t be contained indefinitely. Eviction blockades, like those that have occurred in Boston, where homeowners and supporters have chained themselves to dwellings and refused to leave, in stand-offs with police for hours, will soon become a common occurrence as the crisis deepens. The stances that some sheriffs have taken against the evictions, even in the short-term, will certainly help spark more militant, grassroots organizing.