Occupy-backed Homeowner Wins Renegotiated Mortgage

Ruby Brown, a North Minneapolis hairdresser and pillar of her church community, won a renegotiated mortgage from Bank of America this week — just days before her home was to be auctioned off in a sheriff’s sale. The settlement represents a fourth victory for Occupy Homes MN, the upstart activist group that has helped homeowners around the Twin Cities remain under their roofs.

For the past 17 years, Brown’s home at 2400 16th Ave. N. has been the center of her family life. This is where her grandchildren come and play after school. This is where a late uncle passed his final days under hospice care. This is where Brown has gathered eclectic art from around the world. Her home is the sun around which her community orbits.

“I think it’s incredibly important for our community, a stabile community,” said Brown, who calls her home ‘the compound’. “When people lose their homes, the family system starts to weaken or totally lets down.”

The May 2011 tornado that ripped through North Minneapolis dropped two 80-foot trees on Brown’s home, causing $92,000 worth of damage — just as she was feeling the impending weight of foreclosure. “I had a moment where I through, maybe this is my moment to just throw in the towel,” admitted Brown. Her home has since been repaired, though a tell-tale blue tarp still flaps above a neighbor’s house and a jagged, tornado-damaged tree sits across the street.

Brown fell into foreclosure after years of struggling with inflated payments in an adjustable rate mortgage — a predatory lending practice which is now illegal. She eventually received a trial modification and complied with its requirements for 12 months, but was dropped from the program anyway. The confusion surrounding her modification prompted her to ask the question: “The people at the top (of Bank of America), do they really know what’s going on?”

Brown began working with Occupy Homes MN and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change six months ago. Like others who have taken the pledge to stay in their homes, she felt her shame dissolve. “It generated a fight in me,” she said. “I didn’t realize there were so many people in the same situation, that it wasn’t just me.”

When South Minneapolis veteran Bobby Hull held a rally at his house last winter to fight his foreclosure, Brown remembered getting up on stage to speak and looking out and seeing young activists in the crowd. “They don’t even own a home,” she thought. “Part of helping someone with their (struggle) was therapeutic, and it gave me strength.”

Hull and two other Occupy-backed homeowners, Monique White and Colleen Mckee Espinosa, have since won loan modifications. Now add Ruby Brown to that list.

“It’s kind of hard to celebrate when you know there’s so many people still going through (foreclosure),” Brown admitted, then added a rallying cry to others in her predicament.

“Come out of the foreclosure closet. You know, there’s help. There are people around the country that are fighting. There’s power in numbers. There are a lot of people going through the same thing. There’s no shame in what is going on. It’s not your fault. It’s an epidemic, and we have to fight for the antidote.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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