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Fighting Eviction

Foreclosures more than doubled in Massachusetts in 2007, compared with the previous year. That's according to The Warren Group, a real estate and financial information firm in Boston. Its analysts predict more people will lose their homes in the state this year.

But a local group is mobilizing to resist that trend. "City Life" turned out to protest a planned eviction in Dorchester yesterday.

WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness was there and has this report.

TEXT OF STORY:

CROWD: No foreclosures! No evictions! No foreclosures! No evictions!

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: About 50 supporters chanted and held signs outside a two-family house in Dorchester. Inside, an African-American single mom and her three kids waited.

MELONIE GRIFFITHS-EVANS: I'm Melonie Griffiths-Evans and we're blocking an eviction that's supposed to happen at 9:30. The constable and the movers are supposed to come and move me and my children, and my two cats, out on the street with nowhere to go.

TONESS: Griffiths-Evans bought this house in 2004 enticed by low interest rates and little money down.

GRIFFITHS-EVANS: There it was the "American Dream" for less than renting. It's been the American nightmare.
The monthly payment started at $3,500 a month and ballooned to $5,000. And her mortgage broker — who she says promised to refinance after two months — didn't return her calls. The broker has since been barred from operating in the state after charges of fraud for falsifying incomes on mortgage applications.

Griffiths-Evans is not alone in foreclosure. Her Dorchester neighbors are losing their homes far more than residents of other parts of Boston.

But now the group City Life, which has spent the last 30 years fighting for tenants' rights, has taken up the cause of homeowners after foreclosure. They organized this protest — or blockade, as they call it — and vowed to do the same for a hand full of homeowners who face eviction this month.

Steve Meachum says City Life isn't fighting to retain ownership. They're fighting to let the former owners stay in their homes as renters.

STEVEN MEACHUM: We estimate that over 1,500 families all over Boston will be evicted, forcibly evicted, and there's no reason for it. The banks can keep these folks as tenants or sell the building as occupied.

TONESS: On this day, the protesters claim victory. The constable postponed the eviction according to Griffiths-Evans' lawyer.....

And the proud 38-year-old mom jumped up and down as if she were one of her teenage kids.

GRIFFITHS-EVANS: We're going to take back our cities! We're going to take back our neighborhoods! We're going to do what's right for families, not what's right for bankers!

TONESS: But the bankers say they aren't property management companies.

BILL RINEHART: We have a fiduciary responsibility to the investor or investors.

TONESS: Bill Rinehart is vice president for Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC. That's the Florida-based company that services Griffiths-Evans' mortgage.

Rinehart says the firm has no intention of calling off the eviction.

RINEHART: I don't believe anyone in the industry who is servicing the loan is set up to be a landlord.

TONESS: Griffiths-Evans says even if the bank doesn't allow her and her family to stay as renters; she wants to be an example for other people facing foreclosure.

GRIFFITHS-EVANS: Never think you're alone, never be too ashamed, never be too embarrassed! This is just my part of my fall...but I'm showing you guys I can get up, my kids can get up, and every other home owner can get up!

TONESS: Meantime, the tenants' rights group plans to continue the fight as more people face losing their homes. And they're bracing for Melonie Griffiths-Evans eventual eviction, and hoping she gets 48 hours notice.

For WBUR, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness.

This program aired on January 24, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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