United States: Arrests show banks prefer empty homes

Luz Smedbron ― a disabled mother of three originally from Ecuador ― and about a dozen housing rights advocates, stood together on Smedbrons' porch in Addison, Illinois on July 29.

With protest signs in hand, they chanted: "The people united, will never be defeated!"

DuPage County sheriffs moved in, but protesters stood their ground.

As news cameras arrived on the scene, the officers slunk back to their patrol cars, looking confused and embarrassed. They radioed for reinforcements.

Smedbron said: "The banks did not work with me, they would not give me a reasonable modification. They prefer to have houses empty and people homeless."

Wells Fargo, the bank Smedbron had been paying US$3000 a month to for the past five years, has demanded proof of $6000 in monthly income to even consider modifying Luz's loan.

Her disability checks fell well short.

The Federal Reserve recently fined Wells Fargo $85 million for illegally targeting African American and Latino families for subprime loans.

Both minority groups had lost more than 55% of their net worth by 2009 as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, a recent Pew Research Center report found.

The bank was also charged with forging loan documents.

With annual revenue of $20 billion, $85 million is a drop in the ocean for Fargo.

After Smedbron exhausted two years trying to modify her loan with Wells Fargo, the bank sold the home to a bottom-feeding real-estate speculator.

Patrick Young, president of Financial Advantage Mortgage, arrived alongside of sheriff deputies in a black, military-style Hummer, to ensure the eviction was carried through.

"There is no real freedom in this country if you don't have money," said Luz Smedbron's 12-year-old son, Max. "I'd call my friends over to help us [protest the eviction], but they're all at football practice."

After huddling for two hours, and with reinforcements in place, the DuPage County sheriffs donned black gloves and descended on the family and activists.

Holly Krig, Christopher Poulos, Toussaint Losier, Jorge Ortiz and myself were arrested. Ortiz was kneed in the spleen and slammed to the ground during the arrest.

Each of us was charged with one count of criminal trespass to property, one count of obstructing a "peace" officer and one count of obstructing service of process.

Ortiz and Poulos were also charged with resisting a "peace" officer.

We all face up to $2000 in fines and a maximum of one year in prison.

About 15 of Smedbron's neighbours looked on as we were arrested. A few defended the family's right to stay in the home; others encouraged the arresting officers.

Before the action, the family, with activists, walked door-to-door asking neighbours to stand in solidarity with the family.

Some agreed ― notably, the ones who were facing eviction themselves ― and held protest signs in the street.

Others refused to stand with the family, despite the effect the Smedbrons' eviction would have on their own home values.

The speculator paid a fraction of the original cost of the mortgage and drove the rest of the neighbourhoods real-estate values down with the purchase.

No one other than the bank and speculator stood to gain from this eviction.

One neighbor said: "If they don't pay their bills, they belong in the streets."

Another said: "I'll stay on the sidelines for this one."

They seemed unmoved by Luz's disability and her soon-to-be homeless children.

Activists spent 10 hours in the DuPage County jail. All of us were treated with disrespect by the jailers.

Officials refused to answer any questions regarding the nature of the charges or how long we would be locked in the bright, florescent-lit, white, cinder-block boxes.

When Smedbron was asked what would happen next, after the protesters were arrested, she said, "I have no place to go now. We'll probably end up in a shelter."

Homeowners are facing similar dire situations around the country, and we'll need to step up out activism if we're going to stop these evictions.

[Abridged from www. socialistworker.org .]

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