Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
New York, NY –
The housing group ACORN says it will help fed up homeowners facing foreclosure resist evictions when and if marshals try to remove them. WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez has more.
CHANTING: Whose house, Myrna's house, whose house, Myrna's house, she's staying here, she's staying here.
REPORTER: Instead of a for sale sign on the front lawn of 73-year-old Myrna Millington's home, there's a sign that reads "Foreclosure Free Zone". And behind it - a group of so called "Home Defenders" with a bull horn, leading chants and promising to help the slow moving senior citizen keep her home. Millington says she bought the tan colored frame house in 1971. Back then, mortgage payments were $500 a month. She paid off the house but had to refinance in order to make much needed repairs and Millington says a sub-prime loan with an adjustable rate made her payments too high:
Millington: That's why I'm in this mess. So I went to ACORN and ACORN is helping me to stay in my home. I'm going to stay here I'm not leaving my home. They can put me in shackles I'm still not leaving my home because this is my home.
REPORTER: Millington lives in Laurelton Queens, where many black Caribbean families have settled. This neighborhood along with the rest of south east Queens is one of the areas with a cluster of foreclosures. While many of these families feel they've been duped, some elected officials and others say the homeowners should have read the fine print and not borrowed money they knew they could not pay back. But others feel differently. ACORN's Val Holder says the organization will work peacefully and non-violently to keep families in their homes:
HOLDER: We are developing phone banks and text messages and e-mail systems so we can mobilize members, press and legal teams quickly.
REPORTER: Holder imagines there won't be much notice for organizers to prepare.
In New York City, Marshals perform evictions as soon as they are hired by property owners. Holder says organized foreclosure resistance has not been tested here yet nor does she know when it might be. Meanwhile, ACORN is gathering recruits:
HAMILTON: God have you covered you're not going to lose your home.
REPORTER: Lucille Hamilton lives a few blocks away from Millington and says she just became a home defender:
HAMILTON: I will support her because for someone to be in their home even five years. It's unfair to the people to put them out on the street. And another thing, the houses are all being vacant so you might as well leave the people in their homes until a program can be fixed in order to help them.
REPORTER: Hamilton says two people on her block have already lost their homes:
HAMILTON: Sixty-five years and older and they lost their home through the sub-prime mortgages.
Recently, new HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan acknowledged that the foreclosure crisis was a "targeted scourge on minority communities". He said in 2007 nearly a third of all sub-prime loans in New York City were given to people who qualified for something better.
ACORN and some elected officials are calling for a one year moratorium on foreclosures until President Obama's plan to address the housing crisis can be completely rolled out.
Forty-five-year-old Olive Thompson is optimistic about Obama's plan. She's currently in foreclosure and says up to now her bank has refused to negotiate:
THOMPSON: They don't want to speak to me. No one should go through this. Especially if you work so hard. I work two, three jobs. It's not fair.
Thompson says she's a nurse’s assistant and just like Millington she will resist leaving her home if it comes to that.