Update: After successfully fending off the first eviction attempt against the Ceballos home last week, Occupy Homes celebrated Monday night with a concert and community gathering attended by 250 people.
Hip-hop artists Brother Ali and Haphduzn performed at the celebration as participants geared up for the ongoing defense of the property. The Ceballos family seeks a loan modification from JPMorgan Chase, which the family says violated key provisions of the national mortgage settlement.
The celebration follows a report from Occupy Homes that 30 police officers attempted to evict occupants during an unannounced raid on the property. Two were arrested, but the Ceballos family was able to retake their home with the help of 75 community members who removed boards after the officers left.
Earlier: “With Banks Unwilling To Help, Victims Of Foreclosure Turn To Unconventional Tactics,” from July 22:
Last week, housing rights advocates in 15 U.S. cities delivered 10,000 petition signatures to Chase Bank branches demanding justice for Sergio Ceballos, a Minneapolis resident who faces what advocates believe is an unjust foreclosure proceeding.
Despite being one of five major banks to agree to the $25 billion National Mortgage settlement last year, Chase continues to practice “dual tracking,” a process in which the bank negotiates a loan modification while carrying out foreclosure and eviction proceedings against a homeowner. It’s one of many practices explicitly banned by the settlement.
As the summer weather heats up across the U.S., so do the actions in defense of besieged homeowners like Sergio, a father of three.
Internationally recognized hip-hop artist Brother Ali joined dozens in demonstrations this week both to defend the Ceballos home and to demand a change to Chase policies.
“We all know that something is very very wrong. We read in the news about people losing their homes, we hear about people losing their jobs, we hear about the common people getting more and more poor, having less and less while the people at the top enjoy more — record profits, record bonuses and all these things,” said Ali in a statement to MintPress News.
Occupations heat up
Ali has lent more than just his name to helping defend homes in the Twin Cities. When he isn’t touring, Ali often speaks at events, attends demonstrations and even got arrested last year while peacefully defending a home against foreclosure.
“When people open up their lives so that we can come and be activists it’s something that does make a difference. We’ve seen a lot of families fight and win,” Ali said. “There has been the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. The legislators that passed that let us know that this work was a huge motivation and helped a lot. If everyone knows that there is a group of activists in the streets going to jail forcing the issue, forcing banks to renegotiate it makes it easier to pass legislation.”
Minneapolis passed a Homeowners’ Bill of Rights earlier this year joining California among just a handful of states and cities to have laws protecting homeowners from predatory foreclosure practices. The results have been dramatic in California, where foreclosure proceedings have dropped 75 percent between January 2012 and February 2013, according to statistics from RealtyTrac.
Jonathan Ceballos, Sergio’s son, tells MintPress News that the ongoing battle dates back to 2010, when his father struggled to obtain a loan modification after a divorce made it more difficult for him to make payments.
“This battle has been going on since 2010, before we found Occupy,” he said. “Once my parents got divorced, it was a little harder for my dad to make payments. Right away we tried to get on board with Chase and let them know that we needed a loan modification.”
Since then, the family has received the runaround, filing paperwork only to be told that the bank lost or misplaced papers.
“We’ve had to resend over and over,” Jonathan Ceballos said. “We would speak to one person and every time it would be someone else. This went on until now. At this point we are waiting for another modification.”
This violates a key point of the national foreclosure settlement, which stipulated that banks must maintain a single point of contact for those who are trying to obtain a loan modification.
Things became more complicated when Sergio would request to speak to someone in Spanish, his native language.
“When my dad would call and I wasn’t around he would need translation or something in Spanish, that wasn’t involved either, they couldn’t help him out with that,” Jonathan Ceballos said.
Now, there is a round-the-clock presence in the home, with sometimes 10 or more people who have barricaded themselves inside, waiting for the police to arrive at any time to carry out an eviction. Using non-violent resistance, supporters have moved a 1,500-pound barrel filled with debris into the living room. They plan to lock themselves to the barrel — slowing down any eviction or deterring it all together.
Occupy Homes rolls on reclaiming properties
As the Ceballos family continues its battle with Chase, another home defense is occurring just down the street.
The home originally belonged to Michael McDowell’s grandmother, who lost it when she lapsed into financial trouble. She and her husband lived in the house for 10 years. McDowell is now one of four people who have reclaimed the home.
“I just don’t want to see it go to waste. That’s why I have people here occupying it, that’s why I’m moving in,” said McDowell to Mint Press News.
Lawrence Lee, one of McDowell’s new roommates, was connected with the house by Occupy Homes, which helped him find a decent place to live after weeks on the street.
“I was sleeping outside in the streets for two weeks straight. It was a little family dispute so I chose to sleep outside and then my sister’s boyfriend hooked me up with the people to talk to and from that I have been on my feet and going,” said Lee to Mint Press News.
Moving poor and homeless into vacant or abandoned homes sounds like a simple concept that would help solve an epidemic across the U.S. With 18.5 million vacant homes across the U.S. and more than 3.5 million homeless, the solution to the housing crisis appears self-evident, but it remains out of reach because of current property laws.
McDowell and his fellow occupants say they are fixing up the property and pay utilities.
“We pay the utilities. I have the light bill in my name and we have the water bill about to come in my name. We plan to pay taxes on the house,” Lee said.
“We’re fixing up the house. We’ve done a lot of repairs on the piping. We’ve got the water back on and the electricity because all of that was turned off. We’ve done a lot so far,” said McDowell, a cafe manager and an employee at his uncle’s catering business.
A vacant home can be a blight to any neighborhood. Without regular occupants, a property can fall into disrepair or become an area that attracts crime. By moving into vacant homes, McDowell and his friends appear to be killing two birds with one stone — reducing homelessness while making good use of a property that would otherwise have a negative presence in the community.
“I think the neighborhood is loving it. The neighbors don’t want an abandoned house in the area,” Lee said.
But instead of encouraging this type of positive community action, Lee reports that the police responded with hostility.
“They dragged me out of the house starting being disrespectful. The sergeant came up and told me that he wanted to kick my butt and take me in the alley and beat me up and all this,” he said. “I thank everyone for helping me out. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I would be. I could be dead, in the hospital, or whatever. I have three kids to live for so I’m just trying to do it for my kids.”
Minneapolis police arrived and issued two trespassing citations Wednesday. Minutes later, a local elected official had the citations thrown out, according to Nick Espinosa, an Occupy Homes spokesperson.
A study by the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless found more than 13,000 homeless people across the state in 2009.
Feature photo | Supporters gather at the Occupy Homes event celebrating their fending off the first eviction attempt against the Ceballos home last week. Mark R. Brown via Occupy Homes