Making Banks Pay to Maintain Foreclosed Properties

John Tanner of SEIU Local 721

John Tanner of SEIU Local 721

New Orleans One disclosure after another leads the news disclosing the bad behavior of banks, servicers, and others in the foreclosure racket, but often to the victim it seems like little more than water hitting the rocks whose impact none of us will survive to see.  In recent weeks close reading of major papers would have detailed the larding on of fees by servicers that stand as barriers to modifications, the home break-ins and property destruction and seizures authorized by banks and carried out by thugs, and the “widespread fraud” revealed in filings against Bank of America by Arizona and Nevada law enforcement authorities, all piled on top of questionable record keeping, auto-signatures, and almost zero effort to self-supervise an effective loan modification program.

When I walked recently in block after block of the western neighborhoods of Phoenix with Arizona Advocates & Actions (www.advocatesandactions.org) and looked at the damage abandoned properties owned now by banks are doing steadily and surely to fine, working family neighborhoods, I wondered why cities are not doing more in face of such dramatic consequences.  The common city excuse is lack of resources in the wake of the recession, but it also is a lack of will and wisdom in dealing with the community killing banks and their irresponsible practices.

Los Angeles has taken a step in the right direction thanks to a successful campaign led by ACCE (the Alliances of Californians for Community Empowerment, formerly California ACORN) and SEIU Local 721, which represents Los Angeles city workers who have “skin in the game” both as workers and residents, and other political and community allies.  They prodded the City Council to pass an ordinance which establishes clear accountability to the banks and tough penalties for inaction.   They created a “foreclosure registry” requiring lenders to maintain foreclosed properties or be fined $1,000 per day, up to $100,000 a year. Lenders will have 30 days to straight up the properties before fines are imposed.  SEIU Local 721 set up a website allowing citizens to easily report problems (“Hoodwinked LA” Web page), and given the revenue stream it is in the interest of the City to actually keep their feet on the bank’s neck to get them to fix up or pay up.  If ACORN were still alive this would be a campaign being waged in 50 cities now as communities with the same problem moved to replicate the model won in Los Angeles, but even without an ACORN to pull the trigger, word of this kind of victory needs to get out and about.

In Los Angeles these community-labor partners are clearly going to keep stoking up the fire under the banks.  Long time organizing veterans like Amy Schur with over 20 years at ACORN and Peter Kuhns, another veteran of ACORN organizing who has spent his entire organizing career in Los Angeles, will no doubt keep adding fuel to the fire.  In a picture the other day of civil disobedience at one of the banks, I could see John Tanner, long time SEIU International organizer and now the head of SEIU 721 for Los Angeles city and county workers among others, towering over the crowd and listed among those arrested.

They’ve done their part, now the rest of us need to get busy!

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