Occupy Brings Foreclosure Defense Movement To Baltimore, Deutsch Bank Proceeds With Eviction

Occupy Brings Foreclosure Defense Movement To Baltimore, Deutsch Bank Proceeds With Eviction

Scroll through photos for more. Casey McKeel and Spencer Compton contributed to this article.

The movement to physically stop evictions and foreclosures made its debut in Baltimore on Tuesday, January 10th outside of the West Baltimore home of Lila Kara. Nearly 100 people associated with Occupy Baltimore assembled early in the morning to stop a Deutsch Bank foreclosure order against her house.

Those assembled included neighbors, some facing foreclosure themselves, and participants from Occupy Our Homes, a working group of Occupy Baltimore. They were joined by representatives from various labor unions and community organizations including the National Nurses Union, Unite HERE, Good Jobs Better Baltimore, and Occupy DC. The crowd had been anticipating the arrival of the Sheriff’s office, upon which participants would link arms and attempt to block the eviction.

Though initially proclaiming victory after a no-show, Sheriff’s officers and a representative assumed to be with Deutsch Bank who refused to identify herself proceeded with the eviction process on Wednesday morning, arriving unannounced. Workers changed the locks on the property and took inventory of Kara’s belongings, while about 20 people assembled in protest.

Kara’s home had been foreclosed after GMAC Mortgage advised her to refinance by defaulting on her payments so that she would qualify for modifications. After the papers were signed, Kara defaulted on her payments and GMAC moved to foreclose her home, which was subsequently auctioned to Deutsch Bank.

Kara’s paperwork was “robo-signed” by GMAC, a practice that the notorious mortgage company has come under fire for before. In January 2011, GMAC was forced to drop over 250 foreclosures in Baltimore alone when it surfaced that they had used similar methods on homeowners throughout the city.

Knowing that action was needed, Kara got in touch with Occupy Wall Street organizers in New York, who directed her to the Occupy Baltimore encampment at McKeldin Square. "I saw something on McKeldin Square but because I'm always in a hurry going to work when I pass by, I never paid any attention," Kara said about finally coming to talk to organizers at Occupy Baltimore’s encampment at McKeldin Square.

At McKeldin, conversations led to organizing, and organizing led to action. “Lila came to us, and she asked for help,” says Occupy Baltimore organizer Athena Tsakos. “We did a lot of research and asked her a lot of questions, and we decided to fight alongside her. The banks railroaded her into this illegally.”

“It took almost every day making phone calls, talking to community leaders,” Tsakos says of the organizing for Tuesday’s action. Occupy Baltimore participants knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood and had conversations with residents.

"We have a nice turnout here from the community," says Saba Nazeer, who helped knock on doors in the areas around Kara's Union Square house.  "There are other people in this neighborhood who are in this situation, and some of them are here today."

With the help of Occupy Baltimore and others, Kara has been able to rally her community to support her struggle, opening avenues to support the struggles of other neighbors in the future. "I feel like I have support,” she says, “I'm not scared.”

Kara’s next door neighbor Ebony was among those who stood with her throughout the day. “I'm excited that so many people are coming out to support her. I believe that citizens should stand up when there's injustice,” she says. “A lot of elderly residents are going through the same things. The mortgage companies are telling them to stop making their payments in order to qualify for these modified loans, and then they foreclose on them. It should be illegal.”

“Everybody needs to stick together and come out for things like this,” said another neighbor of Kara’s. “If you put somebody on the street, you’re just opening up more problems,” he said. “If people ain’t got no home, that’s leading to trouble.

“It has hit Baltimore pretty badly,” Ebony continued. “You walk around and see homes that are abandoned that have been foreclosed on… I think it's an issue of values. I don't think [the mortgage companies] value people enough to keep them in their homes.”

The Baltimore action comes amid a wave of anti-foreclosure demonstrations around the country, most notably in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Rochester, and New York City. Though recent Occupy movement groups have taken center stage in the media for their participation, a number of community organizations have been crafting the tactic for a number of years, long before the Occupy movement emerged.

Boston-based CityLife/Vida Urbana has done everything from legal battles to locking themselves to properties facing foreclosure. The group claims a very high success rate in keeping people in their homes, and their organizing methods and tactics have been influential across the country.

Take Back The Land, which started in Miami but soon spread to other cities, specializes in “reclaiming” abandoned homes for people experiencing homelessness. They have recently sent organizers to various locations throughout the country to do trainings and talks with organizers working on launching similar campaigns, and were working with the group in Baltimore last week. 

Occupy Baltimore has stressed that this is only the first action in what they hope will become a broader movement of physically defending homes from eviction and foreclosure.

"Don't give up. Fight!” Kara says to those hearing her story. “This is the only way to make them open their eyes and ears.”

Photos, video, and more context to this story can be found at http://www.occupybaltimore.org

Ryan Harvey is a Baltimore-based independent journalist and grassroots historian. His writings are posted at his blog, Even If Your Voice Shakes . He is also an organizer with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance and a member of the Riot-Folk musician collective.