Building a Fighting Force to Stop Evictions and Win Affordable Rents

ACORN Bristol

New Orleans    Tenancy is rising, and it’s expensive. People are being pressed up against the walls. The old rule of thumb that rent and housing costs should not be more than 30% of income, similar to the old Brooke Amendment named after the legendary African-American Senator from Connecticut, has long been in ruins.

This is a global issue.

ACORN affiliates in Scotland amassed to fight evictions in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in recent weeks. ACORN in Bristol is currently involved in a rent strike and has beaten back numerous evictions.

When we were recently in Detroit, we met with a very active and effective organization there called the Detroit Eviction Defense. The group meets weekly and was diversely populated with younger activists, retired union professionals, lawyers, former journalists, professors, and of course tenants. The actions and victories on their website is impressive.

Evictions are a growing issue.

Researchers, Joshua Akers and Eric Seymour in Detroit shared with us soon to be published data on evictions which were eyeopening to us. In a data set they had accumulated over the decade between 2005 and 2015, these University of Michigan whizzes had separated the nearly 7500 contract “purchases” from the total of 80,000 total acquisitions involving tax delinquency or foreclosure auctions. Although we had thought a primary part of the business model for contract pushers was evictions and indeed they generate more, but it was a matter of degree at 1 out 3 compared to 1 out of 4, between the two, with both at outrageous levels.

A paper by the researchers connected to the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, led by Flora Raymond (and shared with us by our wolverine comrades) notes that Atlanta is out of the box compared with other cities and no small part of this issue is driven by the increased corporate ownership of rental units and businesses that make evictions and the collection of late fees a fundamental part of their business model, similar to the recent news reports of the Kushner operation’s methods in the Baltimore area. The paper notes that,

In Fulton County, an average of 107 eviction notices are filed each day, for a yearly total equal to 22 percent of all rental households. In Milwaukee … 16 percent of all rental families are evicted. A similar rate occurs in Fulton County, where 15 percent of all rental households are evicted. Eviction rates are highest among multifamily rentals, but they are also prevalent in single-family rentals. We find that large corporate owners in the single-family rental business are more likely than small landlords to evict tenants, even after controlling for parcel level and neighborhood-level factors.

Our Home Savers Campaign is finding that our members are frequently entering the predatory land installment contracts not because they are wide-eyed about becoming home owners, but even more frequently because they are desperate for affordable housing regardless of condition, if they think they can manage the lower monthly payments, regardless of the predatory scam.   Something is happening here, Mr. Jones!

It’s been widely reported and at the grassroots level, painfully realized, but Raymond and her co-authors state it plainly,

The number of renters with high housing cost burdens has reached record levels in the United States. Over 21 million households spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent; 11 million of those spend more than 50 percent, which is considered severely cost burdened. Much of the increase in households reporting housing insecurity can be attributed to soaring rents as demand for rental housing climbs (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 2016).

Add it up and the numbers are staggering. About 27,000 evictions in Atlanta’s Fulton County every year, and eviction rates in Milwaukee at 16%, Chicago 7%, Cleveland 11%, and the beat goes on and the family and community tragedy it represents increases. Take 21 million paying more than 30% of income on rent and another 6 million contract buyers, and millions of renters facing the street over and under these figures who are facing eviction, multiply them by all members of their households, and we have a huge constituency that would seem to be ripe for both organization and action.

Like the old buffalo hunters, I’ve got my ear to the ground to see if I can hear a movement coming.

Please enjoy Blackleg Miner by Offa Rex (The Decemberists & Olivia Chaney).

Thanks to KABF.

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Spanish Banks Move to Freeze Foreclosures Sounds like a Plan!

Protests against evictions in Barcelona

New Orleans   Watching the banks back track and squirm in Spain over foreclosures that ended in several well-publicized suicides that are now roiling the political establishment in that country is a good lesson in how financial institutions can actually be moved when political will begins to coalesce.   In the USA we certainly do not seek dramatic suicides, but it would be wonderful in the wake of the recent election if we could finally build the political weight to offset the banker’s financial interests, contributions, and army of Washington lobbyists.

The headline in the Wall Street Journal oversells the Spanish action (“Spanish Banks Freeze Foreclosures”), but still spoke eloquently to the Spanish banks’ recognition in their foreclosure crisis that they had to spin another way, rather than continue to flip off mortgage holders and foreclosure victims which has been the standard USA operation procedure.  The banks there claim that they will “suspend” foreclosures for two years due to “humanitarian reasons” when homeowners are “in extreme financial need.”

They had little choice and this voluntary offer might not be enough to meet the political crisis in Spain over this issue.  Both of the major political parties have come together, as we have noted elsewhere, to revise bankruptcy laws, which are the impediment in refinancing in Spain, just as they are for many here in the United States, to allow homeowners to reorganize to the market values, which is also a huge part of our crisis.  Advocates there are arguing that “the government should implement a law halting all planned evictions of indebted families acting in good faith,” which also sound like a great step forward.

With Geithner finally on his way out at Treasury and the likelihood of removing some of the officials that are standing in the way of restating home values to market in the name of “moral hazard,” even though Wall Street and all banks have eternally sworn off moral hazard for their own accounts years ago, it is worth seeing the issue of housing being part of any agenda for potential bipartisan activity.  It can’t be wrong to finally make bankers accountable to the government.  It can’t be wrong to finally hold banks and mortgage holders accountable for wrecking the economy and setting back the prospects of “citizen wealth” for millions of families.

Spain is showing the way we need to move.  Now is the time!

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