At least 100 people gathered outside the West Oakland BART on Tuesday afternoon to march to a vacant house in West Oakland to protest the foreclosure of a family’s home. The protest was organized by Occupy Oakland and Causa Justa, an organization that advocates for tenant and immigrant rights.
The protest was held on behalf of the family of Margerita Ramirez, who joined the march with her young son. Addressing the protesters at the West Oakland BART, Ramirez said that her husband had lost his job the previous year, and the family had asked the bank holding their mortgage if they could make modifications to their mortgage agreement. Ramirez said the family was given a grace period of 30 days before their property could be sold if they fell behind on their mortgage payments, but, she said, the bank had sold it before those 30 days were up.
According to the organizers, in May, 2011, the Ramirez home was sold by the Bank of America, acting on behalf of Fannie Mae, a government sponsored mortgage finance company, while the bank was still supposed to be working with the family to come up with alternative solutions. The family continues to live in their home, but now pays rent to the new owner, said organizers.
With chants of “What do want? Our homes! When do we want them? Now!” the protesters walked down Mandela Parkway, and arrived at 1015 10th Street. The home at that location, which is a vacant foreclosure, is not the Ramirez family’s, but protesters said they chose it because it is owned by Fannie Mae.
The protesters carried signs, and stood outside the house for hours, continuing to chant. Some ventured inside the place, and boarded up windows with multiple copies of a poster that declared “Foreclose Wall Street West” in large black letters. The protesters then ate lunch at the home—some had set up a grill in the front yard—and held workshops on eviction defense and tenants’ rights. The protesters said that they would hold the property until the Ramirez’s home was returned, and Fannie Mae administrators converted the 10th Street property into low-income housing.
“We’re acting in concert with 27 cities across the country to take back homes, to provide eviction defense, to interrupt auctions, and to do what we can to call attention to the foreclosure crisis,” said Nell Myhand, one of the organizers of the march. The protesters plan to occupy foreclosed properties, letting people sleep inside them, as well as hold workshops there.
As one of two large government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae (which is a another name for the Federal National Mortgage Association) exists to expand the mortgage market. It bundles mortgages into mortgage-backed securities, which are essentially pieces of paper that give the holder the right to receive the return (or interest) on the mortgage. This way, mortgages are repackaged as assets and sold to investors.
Fannie Mae staffers were also involved in increasing the availability of subprime mortgages before the financial crisis of 2007. Subprime mortgages allowed low-income homebuyers with bad credit ratings to apply for loans that they would otherwise have been denied. While proponents of subprime mortgages say they are a way of ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to buy homes, these loans are often given at interest rates that are higher than the market average.
Myhand said that more than 90 percent of the foreclosed homes in Oakland were in areas of West Oakland where subprime mortgages had been used to finance the homes.
Boots Riley, an Oakland rapper who has been involved in the protests and attended Tuesday’s march, said one of the reasons for the housing crisis is that people were encouraged to take out loans for houses they could not afford. “Many people were kicked out of their homes due to the false housing bubble banks created,” he said.
“There are all of these foreclosed homes, many of them that the federal government actually now owns like this one, and there are plenty of homeless people,” he continued.
The Occupy/Causa Justa group plans to continue to camp in homes until Fannie Mae administrators return the Ramirez family’s home, and turns other foreclosed properties into low-income housing units.
“We’re going to start taking over houses everywhere,” said organizer Thaddeus Guidry, leaning against the metal fence outside the vacant home. Guidry said he would stay at the 10th Street house until he was kicked out. “And even when they kick me out, they’re still gonna have to keep me out,” he said, with a laugh.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Oakland North hadn’t been able to contact Guidry to see if he or other protesters were still in the home.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.