Nick Espinosa is an organizer with Occupy Homes MN, where he’s helped people facing foreclosure and eviction fight off the bank and keep their homes for the last eight-plus months. Nick is also well-known in activist circles for being the creator of the Glitter Bomb as a tactic in support of LGBT rights. In short, he’s a great activist who’s putting his full being into helping others. Unfortunately while Nick had been helping other families in his community, his mother, Colleen McKee Espinosa, received a foreclosure notice. After briefly falling behind on her payments, Colleen had repeatedly asked Citibank to let her become current on her mortgage, but they wouldn’t let her pay. Instead the bank moved to take the home, with a Sheriff’s Sale set for Wednesday, July 13th.
Thanks to organizing by Nick and other Occupy Homes MN activists, OccupyOurHomes.org (which I help run), and countless supporters around the country, Citibank has come to the table and found a solution for Colleen and Nick, stopping the sale.
An official with CitiMortgage’s Executive Response Unit contacted the Espinosa family with news that Citibank had approved a loan modification that would keep the family in their home and reduce their payments by one-third on a 7.5 year payment plan. The dramatic news came less than 24 hours before the house was to be sold at auction on Wednesday, June 13.
“I’m so relieved that my family’s home of 16 years will not be on the auction block tomorrow,” said Colleen McKee Espinosa, a nurse and single mother who received widespread support after she pledged not to leave her home without a good faith negotiation. “We are grateful that Citibank has decided to accept my payments, and we look forward to signing the final paperwork.”
“I am deeply grateful to everyone from across the country who stood with our family as we fought our foreclosure,” said Nick Espinosa, Colleen’s son, and an organizer with Occupy Homes MN. “I’m inspired by the outpouring of community support, and it renews my commitment to stand with other families who are struggling to stay in their homes.”
This is a tremendous victory for Nick and Colleen and their community, as well as the entire Occupy Our Homes movement. But how did it happen and what should we take away from it?
Colleen’s choice to fight back was critical to victory. She decided to share her story and talk to her neighbors, Occupiers, and community organizers about how she could put pressure on Citibank to make a deal. Banks aren’t showing themselves willing to magically reduce homeowners’ principal out of the goodness of their hearts (let alone for the financial benefit of their investors). But homeowners who are standing up and saying that they are not ashamed to be fighting back are finding that they are can get solutions from the banks.
The banks want homeowners to be ashamed about being in foreclosure. They want us to keep our mouths shut, except to open wide while we take the bitter medicine of losing our homes. But Colleen’s story shows, as is so often the case, it’s not the homeowners fault for being in foreclosure. When the bank refuses to take your money, it’s obvious that it’s not your fault. When the bank defrauds you and sells you something other than what you were told you were getting, it’s not your fault. When the business you work for goes under and you lose your job in an economy that Wall Street broke, it’s not your fault for coming to foreclosure. When your government job is eliminated as part of austerity pushed by financial elites to, again, try to repair the economy that they broke, it’s not your fault when you get a foreclosure notice. Banks demand that homeowners feel shame for situations created entirely from bank behavior.
As McKee Espinosa says, “If anyone should be ashamed, it’s the banks for tearing apart our communities after we bailed them out with our tax dollars. When we stand together we can win, and I believe thousands more will.”
People like Colleen are showing us all that when homeowners fight back against the banks, they can win. While servicers aren’t rushing to make deals to keep families in their homes and keep chasing profits through foreclosures, when communities organize to help a family stay in their home, the banks are coming to the negotiating table.
The banks have destroyed so much of our economy. Over 7 millions homes have been foreclosed on and at least that many more are likely to happen over the next three to four years. A new study by the Federal Reserve (pdf link) says that median net worth fell 38.8% between 2007-2010, largely driven by a losses in housing. Policy makers, regulators, and politicians have failed to neither pursue legal accountability for bank crimes relating to the housing crisis, nor put in place programs to aid homeowners in crisis. In the absence of meaningful law enforcement and aid solutions, it is up to communities to rally together to fight off foreclosures, as Minneapolis rallied around Colleen and Nick.
Community pressure around brave homeowners like Colleen is producing solutions that are keeping families in their homes. It is forcing banks to behave with a shred of decency and humility. Indeed, it is the hope of the Occupy Our Homes movement that by forcing banks to change what their doing with foreclosures one case at a time, we can build up enough pressure to force banks to change their foreclosure mitigation policies nationally, so all homeowners can benefit.
This is going to be a long fight, but Colleen and Nick are proof that homeowners can beat big Wall Street banks, if they stand up and organize in their communities and wield their power for change. Find out more at OccupyOurHomes.org or OccupyHomesMN.org.