'Occupy Our Homes' Protesters Highlight Foreclosures Nationwide
Bobby Hull is scheduled to be evicted from his Minneapolis house in February, but he won't leave without a fuss. He's invited 100 people from the local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Tuesday to protest his foreclosure.
Hull said he doesn't know if the attention will help him win back his home, which Bank of America sold at a sheriff's sale in August, but he considers the effort worthwhile no matter what.
"If I lose it, I lose it. But I might be able to open the door for somebody else," Hull told HuffPost. "It might inspire somebody else to stand up and say, 'Yeah, you're right, what the banks are doing is wrong.'"
That's the idea behind the action at Hull's house: to draw attention to an unending foreclosure crisis. The rally is one of several events scheduled across the country as the Occupy Wall Street movement, defined in part by its broad critique of economic inequality, focuses in on the narrower issue of housing. Events like the rally at Hull's house will occur in more than a dozen cities, according to organizers, who have received help from more traditional community organizing and labor groups.
The "Occupy Our Homes" protests come as banks face a reckoning for foreclosure malfeasance nationwide. A coalition of state law enforcement officials and the Obama administration have sought a settlement with the biggest lenders over rogue foreclosures and poor treatment of homeowners. But the talks, led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, have dragged on for longer than a year, and several state attorneys general have defected because they say the $25 billion settlement Miller's seeking is too small and would let banks off the hook for too much bad business.
In Hull's case, he and the activists who've taken up his cause are not saying Bank of America foreclosed illegally, but that the bank should show more compassion to a Vietnam vet who wants to stay in his home and is willing to pay if he could get a break.
Hull, a 57-year-old plasterer, said he applied for a mortgage modification under the Obama administration's much-maligned Home Affordable Modification Program in 2009 because he'd been temporarily unable to work due to a series of shoulder surgeries and other health problems. In a video produced by Occupy Minneapolis protesters Peter Leeman and Kyle Kehrwald, Hull offered a typical description of a frustrating modification experience.
"It got real confusing," he said in the video. "They would send me out an application and I would fill it out and send it back. They'd send me three to four more applications within the next two days and I'd fill them out and send it back. I'd call 'em up and they'd say they didn't have my information and I'd give it to them over the phone."
Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said the bank did what it could for Hull.
"We have worked with Mr. Hull for the past two years to help identify a home retention solution," Bauwens said. "During that time, we offered him a modification and later, we reviewed him for HAMP but unfortunately he did not meet the guidelines for the program."
Hull said he owed more than $230,000 on the home and hadn't made a payment since last year. Hennepin County records show Bank of America sold the property in August to U.S. Bank for $83,700.
"This is the typical situation," said Steve Fletcher, director of Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a local community organizing group. "The banks are being incredibly bad about negotiating with homeowners [for loan modifications] and then they turn around and sell the house at a huge loss at a sheriff's sale."
Banks have been reluctant to modify or refinance mortgages for the nearly 11 million borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth. Housing experts say the huge amount of negative equity is a key obstacle to healing the housing market.
Protester Nick Espinosa said Occupiers reached out to Fletcher's group for help finding foreclosed homeowners. The community group looked up foreclosure addresses on the county website and knocked on Hull's door last week. Espinosa and Occupy protesters in a handful of other cities have been highlighting housing for several weeks.
"Immediately when they met Bobby we heard a story that was just so moving, so powerful," Espinosa said. "After all he's been through, he shouldn't have to fight the banks to keep his home."
Hull, for his part, said he'd been depressed about losing his home but that the activists reinvigorated him. He said he'd serve hot chocolate and gumbo to the people who show up on Tuesday, and he's invited members of the Occupy group to use his home for weekly meetings until February, when the eviction is scheduled.
"The banks got all this money from us and they didn't modify anybody's loan? What are they doing with all this money all this time?" Hull asked. The protesters, he added, "kinda woke me up. I'm thinking about myself, but I'm not the only one in this boat. If we're all in this together we need to start bailing water together."