CHICAGO – A few miles south and west of all the hoopla around the NATO summit here Lamont Newsome stands his ground at a battle post he and his loyal canine partner have maintained every day for a year and three months now – his front porch.
Newsome owned his house on Loomis near 53rd for six years when the bank foreclosed on his mortgage. He was willing to pay rent for the right to stay in his home but the bank is not interested. Bank of America says it will get around to getting him out but in the meantime, with the help of his neighbors he and his dog are holding out on the first floor of the wood-framed house, now in bad need of repair. He is able to pay the electric bill but the city has threatened to shut off the water.
“We need him to stay there and guard his own house,” said Charles Brown, a retired Chicago cop who lives two doors down from Newsome on a street lined with vacant lots and abandoned homes. “If Lamont gets kicked out there will be eleven abandoned houses between here and the next corner,” said Brown, who walked this reporter across the street to one of those abandoned buildings, surrounded by piles of rubble that included broken tables and sofas.
Brown, who purchased his home in Englewood 40 years ago, explained that all of the homes became vacant since 2008, the year the banks crashed the entire U.S. economy. ” People lost their jobs and this is what it meant for us,” Brown said. “The drug dealers come in here, operate out of these buildings. The gangs break into other houses, still occupied, and they hide what they steal in these abandoned properties until things cool down. Then they fence the stuff wherever they can.
“If you were a regular person you would get a fine for leaving your property like this,” he said as he walked around to the back of the house where the pies of rubble were 20 feet high. “But even when they do come and issue a fine the Bank of America ignores it – they never pay and there is never a penalty. They foreclose, they hold a mortgage but they take no responsibility.”
His voice trembling and fighting back tears, Brown looked at the pile of rubble and said, “She was only a child, coming home from school and they dragged her in there last month and raped her.”
Back across the street, meanwhile, Newsome’s dog started barking. “It’s the car that just went by,” he said. “It has a bad muffler and that sets him off. I see you’re talking to Charles – he knows what’s going on,” said Newsome. “You can’t have a viable city,” he said, when he was asked to comment on Chicago having been selected as the host city for the NATO conference. “You can’t have a viable city unless you keep the neighborhoods viable. If you don’t, Chicago will die. We’ll die here first but then the city will die everywhere else.”
“I came here 43 years ago and this was a beautiful neighborhood,” said Brown. “Now I am ashamed, ashamed for a people who could let this happen but those banks who are responsible – they have no shame.
“They are worried about law and order downtown, at the NATO meeting but every day someone is shot here. Last week there was a dead body in this pile of garbage. Young boys have been killed.”
Brown said that despite the tragedy, he and his neighbors say they are not about to give up on the neighborhood they love.
Brown is an active leader in Action Now, a group that has sprung up to fight the effects of the bank foreclosures. The group has joined labor and other groups at demonstrations against the banks.
“We are going after the banks for their predatory lending,” said Eileen Kelleher, a lead organizer for the group, “and we fight on every level of government for the funding we need to rebuild. We will be relentless in going after these banks and it’s a victory even if we force one mortgage holder of one abandoned property to pay for a guard on that property. ‘You foreclosed on a property,’ we tell them, ‘and now you need to take care of it.'”
“Until they treat us the way they treat NATO,” said Brown, “we won’t even think about giving up.”
Photo: Blake Deppe/PW