Sunday, January 24, 2010
JN-SPAN Continued: Congressional Hearing on Foreclosures in the Twin Cities
Guest post and videos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
We continue with footage from the Congressional Field Hearing on the impact of the foreclosure crisis on public and affordable housing in the Twin Cities (the official name of that event). Pictured above is Housing Preservation Project attorney Mark Ireland. Mr. Ireland did a phenomenal job representing Hawthorne in our lawsuit against Citimorgage in the EcoVillage.
I really wish the federal government would come up with a spiffier name for this hearing, or at least a slick acronym, but what can you do?
I applaud Mark Ireland's speech because at about the 3:10 mark he gets very gutsy...
In a very straightforward way, Ireland states that we haven't fully discussed the issue of race in the foreclosure crisis. "In every study that I've seen," he says, "the disproportionate impact of the economic crisis, the foreclosure crisis, on renters, on homeowners, has been on communities of color and people of color." So as we develop solutions to these crises, we must talk about race. Thanks, Mark, for putting that out there.
Easily the most moving panelist of the entire event was Marion Anderson, a north Minneapolis resident whose landlord went through foreclosure. The panelists were all told to keep their remarks to five minutes or less, although many went over by a minute or two before being cut off. Mr. Anderson went on for almost twice that length, but his story was so compelling that Rep. Maxine Waters, the chair, told him to keep on talking until he was finished. My summary below will surely not do Mr. Anderson justice, so I strongly recommend that you take ten minutes to watch the video and listen to what he has experienced.
His landlord went into foreclosure in August of 2008. About two months AFTER the August '08 sheriff sale, Mr. Anderson began to rent the unit. The landlord also declared bankruptcy, which may have lengthened the foreclosure process. He did not find out that anything was amiss until February of 2009. That's when the landlord started taking appliances out of the property, starting with the washers and dryers. Then the utility shut-off notices started to come, even though in the lease the utilities were paid for by the landlord.
OF COURSE the landlord still wanted to collect the rent, but the tenants organized and contacted the utility companies to pay them instead. On April 15, the FIRST legal day to do so, the landlord manually shut off the furnace. Then he tried to evict the tenants for non-payment of rent. The landlord disappeared from the scene entirely, but around October 15, the Minneapolis Fire Department (which oversees mult-unit housing) informed the tenants they had 72 hours to get the heat turned on or the building would be condemned and they'd be forced out. There was also no rental license anymore.
The Fire Department worked with the tenants to contact Center Point and get the furnace turned back on, and Legal Aid of Minneapolis helped out too. But then the vacant units became occupied by squatters. The squatters didn't want to contribute to the utility payments, but they did want to contribute to the condemnation of the building by using meth. There is a new owner, and it looks like things will be resolved in the good tenants' favor.
Mr. Anderson and his neighbors are the lucky ones. Countless others experience similar difficulties and wind up homeless.
In a question and answer session later, Rep. Ellison asked whether Mr. Anderson was ever told directly that the building was in foreclosure.
Of course, the answer was "no." And there's the big problem. There are all sorts of protections out there for renters whose landlord is in foreclosure, but if nobody makes them aware of the situation and the resources, those people will fall through the cracks. Any suggestions about how to deal with this are more than welcome. But enforcing such disclosures from landlords to tenants is almost impossible.
Mark Ireland was also asked about his comments regarding racial justice:
He referenced a structure laid out in Dr. Martin Luther King's last book. That structure involves identifying where we are at right now, asserting vigorously the dignity and worth of all people, then you identify the structural impediments to moving forward, and then you "fight like hell."