TOPICS > Economy

Boston Group Helps Homeowners ‘Stand Up, Fight Back’ Against Foreclosure

October 19, 2010 at 5:15 PM EDT
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Paul Solman reports on a Boston non-profit group that is helping families and homeowners stay in their homes in the face of foreclosure. This is the second in an occasional series on the mortgage crisis.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on a fight against foreclosures in Boston. It’s the second in an occasional series on the mortgage crisis. And it’s all part of his regular reporting Making Sense of financial news.

WOMAN: Good evening. My name is Deborah Cox (ph). And I’m in foreclosure.

PAUL SOLMAN: More than two million Americans are in Deborah Cox’s shoes, or Nowi Juwome’s (ph).

WOMAN: Nowi Juwome. The house is in foreclosure.

PAUL SOLMAN: A disproportionate number of foreclosed-on Americans are black or Hispanic, according to a recent Princeton study.

WOMAN: I’m Francisca Gomes (ph). My house is foreclosed.

PAUL SOLMAN: But the movement to resist is growing and has been given a swift lift by the news that foreclosure paperwork was either flawed or fraudulent.

MAN: My name is Satinder Moses (ph). I have been receiving foreclosure notices in the mail. I’m going to see what we can do to try to fight this business.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL SOLMAN: At the weekly meeting of Boston nonprofit City Life Vida Urbana, which been organizing foreclosure resistance for years, the mood is now more defiant than ever.

MAN: And I ain’t going nowhere!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WOMAN: And I have been arrested at an eviction blockade to keep a family from being evicted, and I’m very proud of it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MAN: They took my life savings. And now they’re going to take my house. But you know something? I’m in there, and I’m not going nowhere.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL SOLMAN: So, while banks put a temporary freeze on foreclosures, activists are taking matters into their own hands.

MAN: We have bailed them out. Our tax dollars helped them. They should help us.

PAUL SOLMAN: City Life mounts public resistance to the eviction of foreclosed families.

WOMAN: And we go out and we show that we’re all behind this family and what they’re doing is wrong, and we ask the bank to just negotiate with this family.

PAUL SOLMAN: They call their approach the sword, physical activism, as their standard weekly skit makes clear.

MAN: What do you want?

MAN: Your house.

(LAUGHTER)

MAN: I give you my life savings, and now you’re trying to take my home away from me.

MAN: Yes?

MAN: I’m not going nowhere.

MAN: Oh, yes, you are.

MAN: You hear that? I’m not going nowhere.

MAN: Oh, you think…

WOMAN: Excuse me.

MAN: Oh, yes! Oh, yes!

(APPLAUSE)

MAN: Who are you?

WOMAN: I’m City Life. And you have got to go.

PAUL SOLMAN: The sword is step one of a three-step program. Step two, the shield, free legal help to drag out the process for people like Micheline Champagne (ph).

MICHELINE CHAMPAGNE: They have sent me notices, got to 72 hours to quit. They have offered me (INAUDIBLE) and I have not accepted any of these offers. I opted to take them to court.

PAUL SOLMAN: Step three is the offer, to buy back the foreclosed house and resell it at current market value to the homeowner, like Pamela Nichols (ph).

PAMELA NICHOLS: And I will be closing on my home. I’m getting my home back. And I will be closing on October 22.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL SOLMAN: City Life organizer Steve Meacham is seeing more progress than perhaps ever in his 40 years of activism.

STEVE MEACHAM, organizer, City Life: People come in feeling demoralized, shaken, crying, just in complete despair, and they not only win their house or sometimes don’t win their house back, but they become activists. They become protagonists in their own drama and in the drama of other people. And that transformation of people kind of taking leadership who come in so — feeling so compressed, that is an energizing thing. That’s a — it’s an incredibly powerful thing.

PAUL SOLMAN: Consider Marshall Cooper’s home in the Dorchester section of Boston. It’s become a monument to the power of the sword. The bank now owns it, but Cooper insists, as does every inch of his house, that he shall not be moved.

Cooper bought the home for himself and other family members back in 1997 with a mortgage of about $140,000 at 11 percent. He refinanced in 2005 and found he owed over $200,000. A state court later issued an injunction against that lender for making unfair loans. But on a fixed income, Cooper fell behind. Foreclosure followed.

MARSHALL COOPER, homeowner: I couldn’t sleep at night, had to get up and walk around, look at my heart going to jump out my mouth. That’s how I felt. And it’s a bad feeling when you can’t help yourself. And that’s how I was.

Now, when I went to City Life, I was quiet. But, after a while, it all come to me. It just come. It just come out. I start feeling better. I never felt better, you know, in my life.

PAUL SOLMAN: Once shamed by his situation, Cooper is now emboldened. Still in his house, he uses a bullhorn to tell his story to passersby…

MARSHALL COOPER: Let me tell you all, this is my home.

PAUL SOLMAN: … and warn investors who want to buy his house to steer clear.

MARSHALL COOPER: I am a member of City Life, and I am not going nowhere.

WOMAN: We’re going to be hitting literally all of Boston today.

PAUL SOLMAN: In Cambridge, step two of the program, the shield, wielded by students at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, new recreates being briefed over bagels.

MAN: But the main message we try and get across is, one, you have significant rights. You don’t have to leave your house right now.

PAUL SOLMAN: They break up to go door to door, using a published list of those newly facing foreclosure in the Boston area.

Harvard’s Dave Grossman:

DAVID GROSSMAN, director, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau: It’s probably the biggest part of what we’re doing now over the last three or four years. We get the listings, because it’s public record, of every upcoming foreclosure auction. And we head out and knock on doors.

And, so, to the average person, we may look like just another set of scammers, so we have to overcome that initial skepticism in order to persuade them that, yes, we’re really on their side. We’re building a real movement. We can help you resist, and we’re not going to take any of your money. It’s all free.

WOMAN: After your home is foreclosed, City Life and our legal shield protects you. And we try — and we keep you in your home during that time. we work to prevent an eviction.

PAUL SOLMAN: The shield’s goal, to drive up litigation costs for the mortgage holder, so it eventually agrees to step three: sell back the house to its owner. The news of flawed or fraudulent paperwork is a powerful new weapon in their arsenal.

DAVID GROSSMAN: We have two cases on in court this week. And we’re asking judges to take a look at the paperwork that banks did behind the foreclosure to see whether it was done properly or whether, as is the case around the country, they have cut corners and misrepresented things, and possibly defrauded the court and defrauded the borrower in proceeding on the foreclosure.

PAUL SOLMAN: In the case of Prudhomme and Pierre Dumerant, the sword has been drawn and the shield is up. In 2004, the brothers spent $500,000 on this house for themselves and their extended family.

MAN: My niece, my nephew, my sister, OK, my mom.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, when the economy tanked, so too did their cab business. And the Dumerants were unable to make the mortgage. Their lender, GMAC, had been trying to evict them. City Life responded with a vigil outside the Dumerants’ home.

MAN: Are we going to stand with the Dumerant family in their fight with GMAC?

CROWD: Yes!

MAN: Are we going to stand with them to stop this eviction?

CROWD: Yes!

MAN: Are we going to fight?

CROWD: Yes!

MAN: When we fight…

CROWD: We win.

PAUL SOLMAN: So far, they have stopped it. And with GMAC now reviewing foreclosures in 23 states, though not Massachusetts, City Life and Harvard Legal Aid are riding relatively high, while the housing market reels with uncertainty.

But, for all the protests…

MAN: What do you do when the bank attacks?

CROWD: Stand up! Fight back!

PAUL SOLMAN: … and the cheerleading at City Life…

CROWD: Stand up! Fight back!

PAUL SOLMAN: … the foreclosure fate of the Dumerants and others may depend on step three of this program: the offer. We will explore it next in our series on the foreclosure crisis.