Some 400 neighborhood activists dumped bags of trash from houses abandoned in their neighborhoods in the lobbies of banks in cities across Ohio Sept. 27.
In Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati, US Bank was targeted. In Toledo and Canton it was CitiGroup and in Akron it was Chase. Protesters also posted signs in front of vacant houses in Warren and Youngstown identifying the banks responsible for the blight.
"These banks were bailed out with taxpayer money because of decisions they've made," Josh Thurston, an organizer with Fight For A Fair Economy, told the rally in Toledo. "Most have not paid back these loans, and they still do not take responsibility for the foreclosed properties they have."
"We just finished making a deposit on the bank," Toni Lemons, told nearly 100 angry protesters in Cleveland. Many had taken part in mowing lawns and collecting trash from the vacant houses in their neighborhoods. "We've had enough - enough of this going on in our communities. We are tired of the mess that U.S. Bank and other banks have left in our communities."
"That's your trash," she said, pointing the bulging black industrial-sized bags, which security officers had thrown back in the plaza outside the bank.
Cleveland City Councilman Zachary Reed said he was fed up with the spreading blight and that some of the trash had been collected from a house right across the street from where he lives.
The banks, he said, foreclose and evict owners, but then don't complete title transfer to avoid responsibility for maintenance and taxes. The homes are stripped and vandalized, become magnets for crime and destroy surrounding property values and neighborhoods.
Matt McDonald, an organizer with Fight For A Fair Economy in Cleveland, said the group is a labor-community coalition launched in a number of states by the Service Employees International Union. It is discussing legislation Ohio cities can pass to make the banks, instead of taxpayers, shoulder the costs of the neglect. This includes boarding, mowing, clearing and eventually demolishing abandoned properties. Other costs include paying for increased calls by police and fire departments at the same time there is loss of property tax revenues.
Along with the trash, the protesters delivered a "Billing Statement," saying Wall Street banks owed the people of Ohio $31 billion.
"We are on the verge of a major new wave of foreclosures," McDonald said, noting that a report to be issued this week found that in the state's major metropolitan areas over one-third of all mortgages were "under water." That includes 37% of mortgages in Cleveland where the amount owed is more than the value of the home. "We are trying to head off another disaster for these communities.
"This is just the opening shot," he said. "We will be back."
Photo of Cleveland action by Toni Lemon.