CHICAGO - Carrying furniture from a foreclosed home through the streets, protesters marched on Citibank and the Cook County Sheriff May 16 to demand a moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions.
The Anti-Eviction Campaign, Occupy Chicago and Coalition for the Homeless organized the action. It's part of a week of actions leading up to the NATO Summit May 20-21.
Shortly after the rally, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart agreed to hold a public meeting on the foreclosure crisis. Dart had previously announced a foreclosure moratorium, only to be stymied by the courts.
The protesters attempted to deposit the furniture at Citibank to highlight refusal of the banks, despite an enormous government bailout, to modify mortgage loans and keep people in their homes.
Protesters also blasted Citibank and the fraudulent role Wall Street played in creating the housing crisis, which caused the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Nearly 3 million homeowners were foreclosed in 2011 and millions more are now "under water," owing more to the banks than the homes are worth.
The banks, including Citi, have made billions in profits while people are still being thrown out of their homes.
"There are 100,000 abandoned properties in Chicago and it makes no sense that people are still being evicted," said Loren Taylor of the Anti-Eviction Campaign. "Housing is a human right."
With furniture piled on the sidewalk in front of Citibank, victims of foreclosure blasted the bank for its refusal to work with them to stay in their homes.
Virginia Morales said her parents refinanced their home in 2007. They asked for a modification of the loan agreement from Citibank in 2009. They were granted a trial period to make payments, which they did.
But then Citi refused to give Morales's parents the modification based on some missing documents. The parents faxed the documents but the bank kept finding new reasons to reject the modification.
Now the home is "under water" and the family faces foreclosure.
Morales said it's unjust because Citibank received more bailout money during the financial crisis than any bank.
"Banks are not losing anything. People are losing their homes. No more vacant homes, no more vacant communities. We need to stop this," she said.
Morales works with Communities United Against Foreclosure and Evictions.
"When people join together they can make a difference. Houses are for people, not for banks!" she declared.
Citibank is also foreclosing on Justina Winfrey. Just three weeks ago six sheriffs showed up at her door to evict her and her family. But Winfrey is refusing to move.
"We followed the process to save our home beginning in 2009," she said. "But they cancelled our fourth payment leading to the modification. "
"We entered into a second forbearance plan with Citi and they gave us the bait-and-switch which is what they are doing to families nationwide," said Winfrey angrily.
Winfrey said the courts annulled the foreclosure order but Citi is still pursuing it. The bank refuses to respond to calls by Winfrey for an explanation or to her desire to stay in her home.
"The process is flawed," said Winfrey.
Protesters marched to Daley Plaza where they engaged in some street theater recreating the eviction of a family from their foreclosed home:
The family fights back and calls the media and the anti-eviction campaign. Neighbors and protesters blockade the house and shout, "Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a human right." The bank official and authorities flee.
The Anti-Eviction Campaign announced an "Occupy Homes Chicago" campaign to take over and rehab 100 homes this summer and occupy them with homeless families.
Asked why the protest was taking place this week during anti-NATO protests, Micah Philbrook of Occupy Chicago said, "NATO is an organization that we spend a lot of tax dollars on. The United States has given over $800 million to NATO, and we think that money could be better spent in our own communities, such as keeping people in their homes."
Photo: Victims of foreclosure engage in street threater. John Bachtell/PW