Occupy’s Impact: Emboldening Homeowners Against Banks

Occupy Wall Street, which celebrated its one-year anniversary yesterday, has helped bring economic justice and fair taxation to the forefront of our political debate. But here in the Twin Cities, Occupy has also accomplished another feat. The ragtag group of activists operating under the “Occupy Homes” banner have helped embolden struggling homeowners to fight big banks and lenders and stay in their homes.

This is the first in a four-part series about what Occupy Homes has accomplished in the past year.

A few weeks after camping out on Hennepin County Government Plaza, and engaging in a cumbersome fight with police over the right to do so, Occupy Minnesota quickly shifted its focus to Occupy Homes. The movement’s first ally was Monique White, a single mother in North Minneapolis who worked two jobs but had fallen behind on her mortgage payments and faced the threat of eviction by US Bank and her lender Freddie Mac.

“When you have somebody who, literally if you fail they’re going to lose their home and potentially be homeless, that really brings it home and makes it urgent,” said Occupy organizer Nick Espinosa. “When you’re on the plaza, it’s a big tent and you’re fighting for anything and everything and fighting big systems that are embodied by these huge buildings all around you. Zooming in to one individual really humanized it and touched people on a personal level.”

Activists began occupying White’s home in early November, and when negotiations stalled and an eviction notice arrived in the mail, attorneys from the Minnesota Lawyers Guild represented her and won four consecutive cases in housing court to stall an eviction. Meanwhile, Occupy activists prepared to physically protect White’s house — and face certain arrest.

“The amount of energy that Freddie Mac and US Bank were putting into this eviction for a house that literally was worth about $35,000 according to our own comparative market analysis that our realtor did,” said Occupy organizer Anthony Newby incredulously. “The amount of money that they must have spent to pursue this eviction was certainly tens of thousands of dollars, and my guess is that it far exceeded the actual value of the home. They would expend any amount of resources to get this person out of this house so that Occupy Homes couldn’t claim victory in what had become at that point a national and an international case.”

But on April 17, this David vs. Goliath story reached its crescendo when Monique White snuck into a US Bank shareholders meeting in downtown Minneapolis, confronted CEO Richard Davis, and forced his hand. Weeks later, US Bank executives helped negotiate a new loan between White and lender Freddie Mac.

Of Occupy Homes’ numerous homeowner campaigns over the past year, Monique White’s was the most dramatic and improbable.

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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