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Bank locks out homeowners

Eight homeowners facing foreclosure will return Friday to a Bank of America branch in Albany Park where they were locked out last week.

Like other community groups, Centro Autonomo of Albany Park has held many similar actions at bank branches, with foreclosure victims and their supporters showing up to ask for face-to-face attention – and often they get results like loan modifications, principal write-downs, or just postponements, said Roberto de la Riva.

“Usually when we show up, the bank sends out a p.r. representative and we can have a decent conversation — we can talk to a flesh-and-blood person, get them to look at the case, and often we end up moving forward,” he said.

But when they showed up at the Bank of America branch at 4747 W. Irving last Friday, the bank locked the doors.

So Centro Autonomo and eight Bank of America clients are returning to the branch on Friday, October 12 at 12 noon.

The homeowners include Luis Ponsiano, whose whom went into forclosure after the bank stopped making autonomic withdrawals – which he could afford – from his account, according to CAAP.

There’s Lisa Nadig-Mehdipour, whose troubles started with a difficult divorce.  After repeated demands for resubmission of paperwork from the bank, her application was lost.  A month ago another BOA department told her to submit a new application, and a third department initiated foreclosure.

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Two actions target Fannie Mae

Four years after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were put under federal conservatorship, actions tomorrow and next Monday are targeting the agencies for blocking principal reduction in mortgage refinances.

On Wednesday, September 5, Occupy Chicago will rally at 5 p.m. at Fannie Mae’s office at 1 S. Wacker, where families facing eviction will speak out, and then march to President Obama’s campaign headquarters, 130 E. Randolph, where protestors will be chained together with balls representing mortgage debt.

It’s part of three days of actions targeting “Obama’s failures as president” and “how both Obama and Romney fail to represent the interests of the 99 Percent,” according to a Facebook announcement.

On Monday, September 10, local community groups joined by Occupy Our Homes groups from Minneapolis and Detroit will march from Daley Plaza at noon and rally in front of Fannie Mae (1 S. Wacker) at 1 p.m. and Freddie Mac (333 W. Wacker) at 2.

That protest is part of a national day of action against Fannie and Freddie by community groups working to stop foreclosures in several cities, said Stuart Schussler of Centro Autonomo of Albany ParkChicago Anti-Eviction Campaign is also participating.

Centro Autonomo protests at bank branches to support families in foreclosure who are seeking loan modifications. Principal reduction is a vital component of affordable loan mods, Schussler said.

“Sometimes we get a favorable response from the bank” that’s servicing the mortgage, but but if Fannie or Freddie holds the morgage – as they do in a large proportion of cases – “they’ll say it’s out of our hands,” he said.

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Residents oppose demolitions

Mayor Emanuel has begun demolishing vacant buildings in his newest anti-crime effort, but an organization of residents in the affected communities says it won’t work — and there are better ways to deal with vacant buildings.

Action Now will hold a press conference in front of a vacant lot at 53rd and Laflin, Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., to call on the city to stop demolition and instead use the new Chicago Infrastructure Trust to rehab and rent vacant buildings.

“Vacant lots are not any less dangerous than vacant buildings, and demolishing [buildings] won’t solve the crime problem,” said spokesperson Aileen Kelleher.

She points to the shooting Tuesday of a 14-year-old boy standing in a vacant lot in Roseland.  Last year Action Now held a protest in Humboldt Park at a vacant lot – left unsecured by mortgage holder Chase Bank — where a woman was raped.

One solution is stepped-up enforcement of the vacant properties ordinance, she said.

“If the city had held banks accountable with the vacant properties ordinance – if the banks had kept these properties up and secured them – we wouldn’t be at this point,” said Charles Brown, chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, which developed the Rebuild Chicago plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post.)

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AG Madigan to back ‘maximum’ homeowner relief

At a rally with community organizations on Sunday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is expected to commit to pressing for “maximum” mortgage relief for underwater homeowners as part of the federal-state investigation into bank fraud.

She’ll appear with the regional organizing network IIRON on Sunday, June 10 at 3 p.m. at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 8441 S. St. Lawrence.  IIRON will also be unveiling a new Covenant for Economic Justice.

It’s a significant step for Madigan, who’s a member of an Obama administration task force investigating securitization fraud in the foreclosure crisis, organizers say.

Last year IIRON pressed Madigan to hold out for more money to help homeowners wrongfully foreclosed on in the robo-signing settlement by state attorney generals. Though the monetary settlement in that case was disappointing, grassroots pressure did result in limiting banks’ immunity from liability in the deal, said David Hatch of IIRON.

He said IIRON and groups including National People’s Action are calling for $350 billion worth of principal reduction for underwater homeowners.  An NPA report last year estimated underwater homeowners in the U.S. owe a total of $700 billion more than their homes are worth.

Stealth bailout

That’s a serious drag on the economy, these groups argue, taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the consumer economy – and a “stealth bailout” of banks, which caused the housing crash through reckless and predatory lending practices, and which have received trillions of dollars in bailouts and backstops, most of which will never be repaid.

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What about the neighborhoods?

The Grassroots Collaborative is offering visiting journalists bus tours of working-class neighborhoods struggling with violence, foreclosures, and clinic closings — and they’re questioning the millions of dollars being spent on entertainment at the NATO summit.

Buses leave from the Hyatt Regency at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18, and return by 11 a.m.  Information is at thegrassrootscollaborative.org.

Thursday’s tour will cover Little Village, one of the city’s largest Latino neighborhoods, where community groups are working to address youth violence; and Back of the Yards, where one of six mental health centers recently closed by the city is located.

(The two clinics primarily serving Latino communities were closed, as were four of six South Side clinics, and half the bilingual staff was laid off, all to save $3 million.  Having been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to hold meetings with city officials – including a City Council hearing blocked by the mayor– the Mental Health Movement is planning to march on Mayor Emanuel’s home on Saturday morning.)

Friday morning’s tour will cover Englewood, a poor African-American community hard hit by foreclosures and violence, and Brighton Park, where low-income Latino residents are developing community schools.

Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations, is questioning the priorities of spending millions of dollars to host the NATO summit while the city shuts down clinics and schools, said Eric Tellez.

On another level, he said, NATO spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars while poverty and unemployment “devastates communities across the country” and “the global poor fall deeper into poverty.”

Party fund

Last month the coalition called on World Business Chicago, which is raising money to host NATO, to donate comparable sums to establish a Neighborhood Jobs Trust.  In recent statements, the group is focusing on the $14 million being spent on parties for the summit.

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Tenants to send bedbugs to bank

Tenants will have jars full of bedbugs — to deliver to the bank that owns their foreclosed apartment building — at a protest at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28 at 5159 W. West End.

A new receiver for the building was appointed after tenants demanding basic maintenance declared a rent strike April 11, but tenants haven’t seen any improvements, said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.

Tenants are demanding that Peak Properties, the building receiver, and BMO/Harris bank, which foreclosed on the 32-unit building a year ago, agree to a public meeting to discuss maintenance issues.

“If Peak Properties and BMO/Harris Bank refuse to meet with us, we will take our bedbugs to their offices and homes,” said tenant leader Pamela Johnson in a release.

“Our building is infested with rats and bedbugs, our children are being bitten,”Johnson said.  “Our human rights and dignity are assaulted on a daily basis.”

Building problems include chipped paint, ceiling leaks, broken toilets, and holes in the floor, according to SAC.

Robo-signing settlement called ‘good step,’ ‘sell-out’

Responses from community groups and advocates to the robo-signing settlement announced Thursday ranged from “good first step” to “sell-out to Wall Street.”

The Woodstock Institute emphasized the significant precedent of requiring banks to write down principals for homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth – an approach lenders have generally avoided taking until now.

The settlement “won’t end the troubles of homeowners” but is a “significant step in the right direction,” said Dory Rand.  She said resources need to be targeted to the hardest-hit communities. She called it “a real victory for homeowners.”

The $1 billion in homeowner relief expected for Illinois “will not suffice to restore all of homeowners’ lost wealth” but “it can potentially turn back the tides of default in hard-hit communities,” she said.

Woodstock estimates that 400,000 Chicago-area homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, together owing nearly $25 billion more than their homes are worth.

Rand reiterated Woodstock’s call on the Federal Home Finance Authority to stop blocking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from writing down principals in mortgage modifications.

Paltry restitution

In contrast, a coalition of community groups said the settlement “let banks off the hook.”

“Our elected officials completely sold out the people again to their Wall Street friends,” said IIRON, a regional network including Northside POWER and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation.

IIRON emphasized the paltry sums given in restitution to homeowners who lost their homes due to fraudulent foreclosure practices.  They stand to receive up to $2,000 each.

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Bank fraud investigation hailed

President Obama’s State of the Union announcement of a new investigation into bank fraud represents a victory for community groups, said National Peoples Action on Wednesday.

“We’ve been calling for a full investigation for over a year,” said Liz Ryan Murphy of NPA.  “This is a big win, but we still need to see results.

“We need a complete investigation to get to the bottom  of what they’ve done, with penalties and restitution that are commensurate with the crimes.”

The Woodstock Institute also hailed the announcement.  “Making it clear that criminal activity in the financial sector will not be tolerated is necessary to restore confidence in the mortgage market and the broader financial system,” said Tom Feltner.

Obama announced that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will head a new task force looking into abuses in the mortgage origination and securitization sector.

Schneiderman’s appointment came as NPA and other groups (including IIRON in Chicago) expressed concern that the administration was pressing for a settlement in the robo-signing scandal that would release banks from legal claims covering a sweeping range of misconduct.  Schneiderman was among state attorney generals said to be raising similar concerns

Principal reduction

If it is narrowly focused on relieving claims arising from fraudulent foreclosure filings, a settlement could begin to bring relief to hard-hit communities in the form of loan modifications which reduce principal to reflect depressed home values, Feltner said.

Principal reduction is “a critical missing piece in the response to the foreclosure crisis,” he said.

NPA has argued that homeowners have lost billions of dollars of equity since the housing market collapsed due to the malfeasance of big banks, and that wholesale principal reduction would constitute a massive economic stimulus.

Both groups have called on the Federal Home Finance Authority to direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own 70 percent of home mortgages, to allow principal reduction.

Murray said Obama should replace Edward DeMarco, acting director of the FHFA, who has ruled out principal reduction.

The president “should consider a change in leadership” at FHFA, Feltner said.



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