Foreclosure defense movement stalls evictions

Coldwater, Mich., a town of 10,000 in the western half of the state, is no place one would expect to see a protest demonstration. These days, however, foreclosure defense activists go where they are needed. They have come May 3 to Coldwater from around the state to keep Matthew Murray and Beverley Murray and their two daughters in their home.

The couple fell behind in their mortgage payments as a result of mounting medical bills for their diabetic daughter. While the Murrays were seeking a loan modification, they continued to pay $2,500 a month into an escrow account, with payments totaling $43,000. Bank of America proceeded with the foreclosure. After winning delays through protests and mass emails, the family was expecting an eviction attempt on May 3.

A call went out around Michigan to blockade the house. Matt Murray only discovered the day before that the Branch County sheriff had never received a writ of eviction. The demonstration outside the home went on as scheduled. Occupy activists from Kalamazoo, the nearest city, traveled to Coldwater to help the Murrays resist the eviction. Other supporters included Michael Benthin and Deana Mac, whose scheduled eviction in Portage, Mich., by Bank of America was delayed earlier in the week after the movement intervened.

After it was clear that the eviction would not take place, the Murrays and supporters traveled to the nearest Bank of America branch, which was in Battle Creek. They marched into the bank and demanded to see the manager. Matt Murray presented a letter to the branch manger demanding that the eviction be stopped and that a reasonable loan modification be made.

A national email and phone campaign directed toward Bank of America had been launched; over 5,200 people signed the Occupy Our Homes petition set up for the Murrays. Supporters plan to gather at the Murray home again to resist the eviction.

Foreclosure activists in Detroit, meanwhile, prevented the imminent eviction of S. Baxter Jones, a former Detroit public schoolteacher with disabilities from a 2005 accident. Jones’ home in Jackson, Mich., was sold by Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae despite his efforts to modify his loan after the accident.

On April 4, Jones appeared before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Walter Shapero in a desperate attempt to stop his eviction. Judge Shapero gave Jones a 30-day adjournment.

On May 2, supporters from the anti-foreclosure and disability rights movements packed the courtroom again. The judge granted the motion by Fannie Mae’s lawyers to vacate the stay of eviction, allowing Fannie Mae to eventually take possession of the home. However, Jones, who arrived in court with no lawyer, was given another 90 days in his home. The judge indicated he was willing to hear a request for more time, if needed. This ruling could give Jones time to pursue other legal strategies to stay in his home.

S. Baxter Jones is just one of many homeowners with disabilities for whom the banks have shown no mercy in the foreclosure epidemic. In fact, the banks have established a pattern of forcing out the most vulnerable from their cherished homes.

Now the bankers are up against a growing foreclosure defense movement that has developed successful models of resistance. Like many others who stayed in their homes after thinking all hope was lost, the Murrays and Baxter Jones know they are not alone.

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