Occupy Your Home
By: Elise Hugus, December 22, 2011
Brian Kehrl - Rhonda Mills, in front of her home on Emma Oakley Mills Road in Mashpee. Mills is challenging an eviction notice due to a foreclosure earlier this year.
It’s officially winter.
Though we’re experiencing record highs on the Cape, many people are left out in the cold as we enter the fourth year of unemployment, budget cuts, and home foreclosures.
While the Cape has been somewhat insulated from the full brunt of the recession (we’re used to seasonal booms and busts), we’re certainly not exempt. According to the most recent data from the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, 459 foreclosures were finalized on the Cape in 2011. In the previous year, the Cape foreclosure rate clocked in at 699.
What do these numbers mean? They’re not some graph on the nightly news. These are your friends’, neighbors’, and even your own homes at stake.
The Rhonda Mills case
The cynical among us might say that people choose foreclosure rather than keep making payments on a house that’s under water (i.e. worth less than the mortgage). But Rhonda Mills, a Mashpee Wampanoag woman who’s been fighting to save her Emma Oakley Mills Road home for the past five years, will tell you differently.
The property her home stands on was passed down from a family trust; she’s raised dozens of foster children there, as well as her own. In an eviction hearing in Falmouth District Court on Monday, Mills was defending not only her pride, but her family’s right to have a safe and sound roof over their heads.
Mills will be the first to admit that she made a mistake in refinancing the property with an adjustable-rate loan, which doubled her monthly payments to $3,000 per month. But should she face homelessness as a result? The bank auctioned off the property earlier this year for $217,500—about $150,000 less than Mills owed on her adjusted rate loan, but $100,000 more than the original loan.
Surely it would be more ethical—if not just financially prudent—for Mills to remain in her home and continue paying back the loan at current interest rates.
Luckily, the judge hearing the case agreed, and with the help of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Coucil, Mills has two months in which to negotiate buying back her home from the bank. The problem is, due to the fact that debt is now an asset bought and sold by financial institutions around the globe, no one is really sure who holds the legitimate title to the house...
Occupying our homes
Sadly, the Mills case is echoed across the Cape, the region, and the country. The cards are being re-shuffled, and the middle class is moving towards the bottom of the deck. This is how we get homelessness—and with it, destroyed families, increased poverty, and more strain on the already broken social safety net.
As Mills was having her day in court, the Occupy movement was transforming its evictions from city parks into a spin-off movement called Occupy Our Homes, helping homeowners and tenants in danger of eviction. Even Michael Moore is on board.
There have been some remarkable victories, demonstrating what neighbors helping neighbors can truly accomplish. On the political front, Attorney General Martha Coakley is taking a stand against the banks, exposing their (literally) fraudulent deeds, hidden behind a thick veil of bureaucracy.
The American nightmare
We’re waking up from the American dream to realize we’re just a bunch of landless peasants living in a feudal state. Our taxes are going to bail out Wall Street and the Pentagon, while Congress can’t manage to figure out how to extend unemployment benefits (hint: let the sun go down on Bush’s tax cuts for the super-rich).
The list goes on, but who’s surprised anymore?
Reading the stories of those who have stood up to foreclosure gotten a better rate on their loans, you realize, this nightmare could happen to anyone. If you’re in danger of losing your home, get to know your rights and rally everyone you know to help defend them. Stand in solidarity with those who may be evicted, or put those handyman skills to work by helping people winterize and renovate sub-standard housing.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we’ve got to stick together if we’re to survive.