Community Pressure Can Change Banks’ Mind On Foreclosure And Eviction

If you can’t win in a court of law, try winning in the court of public opinion. That strategy seems to be paying off for an activist group helping Minnesota homeowners fighting banks who are trying to foreclose and evict them.

“We’ve had a number of victories around the metro area,” says Anthony Newby, organizer for OccupyHomesMN. “All of those wins have been as a result of community pressure. It has been more effective than legal action. When banks are presented with sort of their crimes by homeowners and the community in a really direct way we’ve found they are really motivated to fix it.”

Minneapolis homeowner Anita Reyes-LeRey hopes that strategy which has worked for others will help her too.

She has $50,000 equity in her home and was facing eviction from Woodland’s National Bank of Onamia MN. The bank offered to let her rent her home with a plan to buy at a later date, and then refused to honor it because she was four minutes late calling the bank.

Reyes-LeRey contacted OccupyHomesMN (prompted by an email from a friend in Alabama) and they organized a team. The team point person, Nick Shillingford, lives about 2 blocks from her and he has helped organize extensive community support. She also reached out to AIM (American Indian Movement) which had not participated in very many Occupy activities. AIM member Troy Amlee skateboarded to her home and joined the support team. Previous story here.

On Thursday, AIM, OccupyHomesMN and other supporters visited Woodland’s National Bank main office in Onamia, MN. They wanted to see Vice President Cindy Koonce who has been Reyes-LeRey’s contact at the bank. At first she was told that Ms Koonce was not available and would have no comment. Then a bank teller said she was coming and the the bank Representative said Ms, Koonce would not meet with Reyes-LeRey or any members of the group.

The group visiting the bank included Mary Jane Wilson Medrano, one of the Founders of AIM, her granddaughter Frybread and her great granddaughter Waboose.
After the attempted meeting Reyes-LeRey said, “Cindy said at one point that she would meet with us, and then before coming down on the elevator she she changed her mind. That’s sort of becoming the norm.”

Amlee said, “I don’t want to see another homeless out in the streets. I’ve seen enough already.” He added, “I feel like we opened the bank’s eyes of what we are capable of and they should watch what they do because we can raise some hell if we want.”

The group moved to a local restaurant after chanting, “Who’s house? Anita’s house.” and “We’ll be back Onamia!”

After the first eviction notice Reyes-LeRey had stopped maintenance and was packing and repacking so there was much work needed on the home. OccupyHomeMN volunteer Ian Wilson estimates he’s spent about 100 hours working on the home to bring it up to code.

Woodland’s National Bank wrote the mortgage in 2010. The original mortgage holder was Bank of America. Woodland’s is headquartered in Onamia, MN and has a number of branches around the state including one in Minneapolis. It has deep Native American roots.

AIM Founder Mary Jane Wilson Medrano, Frybread and Waboose

Troy Amlee, AIM Member

Ian Wilson OccupyHomesMN volunteer handyman.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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