Atlanta, Dec. 10 — Housing justice activists ratcheted up the struggle against foreclosures, evictions and homelessness by reclaiming a boarded-up, bank-owned property in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta on Dec. 6. Similar actions were held in cities across the U.S. on the same day.
In front of TV cameras, dozens of people moved Reneka Wheeler and Michelene Meusa and their two children, Dillon and Jahla, into the bright pink house. Since the middle of the summer, the two women, both of whom had been laid-off from their jobs and were forced to move out of their rental townhouse, had been shuttling from shelter to shelter. Not recognized as a family, they had been split apart.
With the aid of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, they decided to take action. They focused on the catastrophe created by banking and housing policies that have wreaked havoc on millions of people in the United States. They explained that by taking back homes illegally grabbed from families and restoring them to their rightful purpose — sheltering people — the two hoped they could force a discussion of homelessness.
Occupy Our Homes Atlanta has declared that there are seven vacant houses for every homeless person in this country.
The Pittsburgh community lies in the southwest side of Atlanta, off Interstate 75. Once a thriving African-American neighborhood of working people, its streets are lined with boarded-up houses, decrepit or burned-out hulls of buildings and overgrown vacant lots. This devastation is the result of decades of growing unemployment, urban development, social service cutbacks, deceptive mortgage practices, absentee landlords and speculative builders. Home values have fallen 84 percent in the last few years, and some 50 percent of the housing stock is empty.
House brought back to life
One of those houses is 1043 Windsor St., a foreclosed house held by M&T Bank. Before Dec. 6, its overgrown yard and boarded-up windows contributed to the decaying appearance of the neighborhood. Now the grass is mowed and flowers planted, the lights are on, and a family of four is warm and together. Neighboring churches and people from across the city are furnishing the house, bringing food and 24-hour support.
Atlanta police are keeping a constant presence. The bank has not yet, as of this writing, made a complaint. Thus the cops have not yet attempted to evict Wheeler and Meusa.
An online petition demands M&T Bank turn the property over to the community, specifically to Higher Ground Empowerment Center. Occupy Our Homes Atlanta saved this century-old Black church in another economically depressed neighborhood from foreclosure last January. Its pastor has become a leading voice in the fight against foreclosures and evictions.
Occupy Our Homes Atlanta celebrated another victory after a year-long struggle to save the Pittman family home from foreclosure. The family matriarch, Eloise Pittman, was the victim of an unscrupulous subprime mortgage from Chase Bank, which foreclosed on her as she was dying from cancer in November 2011. Her 21-year-old granddaughter, Carmen, led her family through a year of full-scale occupation, with tents in the front- and backyards, numerous demonstrations and marches, national call-in days to Chase, and Carmen’s own arrest at a bank takeover.
Chase has now relinquished the property, and it is again safely in the hands of the Pittmans. On Saturday, Dec. 8, a victory celebration was held where the hated eviction notice was burned.
For more information on other anti-foreclosure fights being waged in Atlanta and to sign the petition to M&T Bank, see Occupy Our Homes Atlanta.