Occupy protesters take over foreclosed homes

@CNNMoney December 6, 2011: 8:22 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In more than two dozen cities across the nation Tuesday, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement took on the housing crisis by re-occupying foreclosed homes, disrupting bank auctions and blocking evictions.

Occupy Our Homes said it's embarking on a "national day of action" to protest the mistreatment of homeowners by big banks, who they say made billions of dollars off of the housing bubble by offering predatory loans and indulging in practices that took advantage of consumers.

In Atlanta, Occupy Our Homes activists went to the courthouses in three of the area's largest counties, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Fulton, Tuesday morning to disrupt the foreclosure auctions happening there.

"We're using our voices, whistles and other noise. The auctioneers don't know what to do and some of the buyers left," said Tim Franzen, an Occupy Atlanta spokesman. The group is demanding an immediate moratorium on all foreclosures, he said.

Hundreds of demonstrators slogged through the rainy streets of East New York, Brooklyn, stopping at the foreclosed homes that are littered throughout the low-income community and covering the "For Sale" signs with Occupy police tape.

Their message, as spelled out on protest signs: "Bail Out Workers, not the Banks."

The protesters' ultimate destination was a home that has been vacant ever since it was repossessed by the bank a couple of years ago. The plan was to take it over permanently and give it to a homeless family to live in.

What Occupy Wall Street got right

In Minneapolis, protesters are trying to block the evictions of several area owners who fell behind on their mortgages because of illness or income loss.

One homeowner they're trying to help is Bobby Hull, an ex-marine and a master plasterer and contractor who has lived in his home since 1968. Hull still has income and access to financial help from family members, just not enough to pay his bloated mortgage principal.

"I can afford $800 or $900 a month; I can't afford $1,200 to $1,500," said Hull.

Foreclosure in his case made no sense, said Anthony Newby of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. His mortgage balance was $275,000 but the auction of his home only fetched $80,000, less than one-third of the amount he owed. Everybody, including the bank, would have been better off reducing his balance to an affordable level, said Newby.

"The bank should have come up with some solution that would have kept him in the home," he said.

A spokeswoman for Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) said the lender tried to help.

Foreclosures halted for the holidays

"We have worked with Mr. Hull for the past two years to help identify a home retention solution," she said. "During that time, we offered him a modification and later reviewed him for HAMP, but unfortunately he did not meet the guidelines for the program."

Protesters converged on Hull's home Tuesday, where they pitched tents and put up signs. The plan is to prevent his eviction, which is scheduled for February, by using a crowd of several hundred people to block an eviction order from being served.

In Chicago, activists are taking over homes left vacant due to foreclosure. In one of the houses they've taken command of on the city's South Side, they've moved in a homeless mother and child, an evicted homeowner and a college student.

Occupy Wall Street -- without the camping

According to organizer Willie J.R. Fleming, the house was abandoned by its owner and has been severely vandalized since April. The Occupy forces have repaired it and they are putting the finishing touches on the rehab today.

Fannie Mae (FNMA, Fortune 500) and the Mortgage Bankers Association both declined to comment for this story.

Today's demonstrations were just a warm-up for a major push starting in a few months, said Max Rameau, a housing activist with Take Back the Land, one of the organizations that has aligned itself with the Occupy Our Homes movement.

"This is an important practice round for our 2012 spring offensive," he said. To top of page

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