ACORN Home Defenders win one in Oakland

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OAKLAND, Calif. — This story has a happy ending, at least for now.

But one day last week the future hung on a thread for Fernanda Cardenas and her husband, Armando Ramos, as real estate investors circled around auctioneers of foreclosed properties on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse, like vultures around a carcass.

The home they bought three years ago, so they could live in the East Oakland neighborhood where Cardenas grew up and where her parents still live, was up for auction, along with a long list of others.

But also on hand were dozens of “home defenders” — members, along with Cardenas and Ramos, of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, whose immediate mission was to forestall the auction to give the family more time to negotiate a modification of their loan. The longer-term mission of ACORN’s Home Defender program is to peacefully uphold foreclosed families’ right to stay in their homes as President Obama’s plan to fight the foreclosure crisis is put into place.

As Ramos joined other ACORN members holding signs that read Stop Evictions Now! and Save Our Home at the March 12 protest, Cardenas told the family’s story.

They bought the East Oakland home, “five houses away from my parents’ home,” because “we knew everybody” in the neighborhood, and “everybody knew us.” Cardenas works just minutes away at Oakland Airport, and it’s a reasonable commute for Ramos to his construction job in San Francisco.

“At first our monthly payment was $2,600. Then two years after we bought the house they started raising the payment and in the end, we had to pay $3,700,” not including insurance or property taxes, Cardenas said. She said the lenders had assured the family that by the time the mortgage payments went up, they would have enough equity to refinance the home, a claim that proved false.

Efforts to renegotiate their loan floundered as the house lost equity under the impact of the financial crisis, and when the mortgage company finally modified the loan last year, the payments did not decrease as the lender had promised.

“In one month, last November, we had to pay $3,700 for the monthly payment and $3,500 for property taxes,” she said. “But we said, this is our house, we have all our dreams in this house. That’s why for two years we didn’t go anywhere, we didn’t even buy our sons a Happy Meal, nothing. But then we saw it wasn’t working.”

The onslaught of phone calls from creditors has taken a special toll on Cardenas, while her older son, now 6, repeatedly asks, “Mom, why are they going to take our home? Where are we going? What if I don’t like my new school?” It’s hard for him to understand the family may have to move, Cardenas said.

By the end of the afternoon, with sale of their home put off for now, Ramos and Cardenas were set to try again to negotiate a modification of their loan, with ACORN’s support.

Meanwhile, ACORN’s home defenders launched similar struggles around the country last week. Among their actions:

Minneapolis ACORN members joined other local organizations in urging Hennepin County, Minn. officials to declare a moratorium on foreclosures and home evictions.

In Queens, N.Y., demonstrators chanting “stop evictions now” served a mock eviction notice on City Marshal Edward Guida, who served over 600 foreclosure-related eviction notices last year.

In Bridgeport, Conn., home defenders declared they are willing to be arrested to keep Carlos Santiago and his family from being evicted.