Bay area activists protest home foreclosures

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OAKLAND, Calif. - It's a story heard in neighborhood after neighborhood here, as around the nation.

As more than 100 people gathered around her Dec. 6, Margarita Ramirez, a member of the housing and immigrant rights organization Causa Justa/Just Cause, told what happened to her family when her husband lost his job two years ago and they couldn't keep up the mortgage payments on their home.

Joining red tee-shirted Just Cause members in the gathering - one of many in the Bay Area during a nationwide Occupy Our Homes Day of Action - were community members and many Occupy Oakland activists.

Speaking in Spanish, with her young son by her side, Ramirez said the long and short of it was that when the family sought a loan modification from Bank of America, they found themselves in a bureaucratic snarl they couldn't untangle even with help from area Assemblyman Sandre Swanson's office.

While the family was still seeking a modification, Ramirez said, the bank sold the home to Fannie Mae, one of the two government-supported companies that buy and sell mortgages. Though the bank later acknowledged it had made a mistake, she said, Fannie Mae wouldn't revoke the sale.

Now the family is renting the home they once owned.

 "We want to know why Fannie Mae has taken our home and they won't give it back. That's why we're here today, to reoccupy Fannie Mae-owned homes until they give us our home back!"" Ramirez told the crowd.

The protesters then marched to march to another Fannie Mae-owned home - a duplex that's been empty for six months - which protesters said they intend to occupy until Fannie Mae restores the Ramirez family's title and makes it affordable.

When they arrived at the duplex, the marchers found the doors standing open, and Causa Justa/Just Cause members stoking up the barbecue in the front yard.

Standing by the fence with its now-open gate, Just Cause organizer Nell Myhand said the group plans to maintain a 24-hour presence inside, offering know-your-rights workshops for homeowners and tenants and pressing for affordable housing.

We're saying to Fannie Mae, 'You need to do justice by the Ramirez family,'" Myhand told the crowd. "We will continue to hold them accountable because we know they got $169 billion in the bailout. On top of that, since they were taken under conservatorship, we own and fund them, but don't control them. That's what has to change; we must have control over community resources."

Earlier in the day, protesters organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Occupy Oakland marched to several banks before disrupting an auction of foreclosed homes on the Alameda County Courthouse steps. Organizers said the action kept over a dozen homes from being sold off.

And later in the afternoon, Gayla Newsome, a technology salesperson and single mother, told supporters she has "moved back in" to the West Oakland home she lost after a divorce and loss of her job.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and her Nevada counterpart, Catherine Cortez Masto, have announced they will work together to investigate wrongdoing in all phases of the mortgage process in their states. In California, one in 243 homes is in the foreclosure process; in Nevada the ratio is one in 180.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

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