Moratorium Now! Lessons from Detroitin HPN Blog
Project REconomy executive director Nancie Koerber and director of research Mark Thomas were recently in Detroit for a national conference of leaders calling for a foreclosure moratorium. In Detroit they gave witness to neighborhoods where the banks foreclose, evict, shut off utilities and walk away without even locking the homes. In Detroit, you can buy a home for $2500 to 5,000 because there are no buyers, no lending, and no jobs. The big bank foreclosure playbook becomes obvious as they too abandon the homes. In this interview with Nancie she shares how the experience impacted her and informed the work of Project REconomy.
What was the purpose of the Moratorium NOW! conference and who was there?
To bring leaders together from around the country to strategize and build a coalition to create a national moratorium on foreclosure. There was representation from all over the country, everything from nonprofits like ours to Occupy groups and elected officials.
Why did Project REconomy feel it was important to be at this conference?
To meet other leaders, learn from their experience and understand what is working in other parts of the country that we might learn from. We also had the opportunity to share what has worked in Oregon. To witness first-hand the destruction foreclosures have caused in Detroit, a devastating testament to just how low the banks are willing to go.
What was the most memorable part for you?
The passion and commitment of the people who had lost everything. We met amazing people, heard heartbreaking and uplifting stories and came away re-inspired and re-committed to our work.
How did seeing the devastation in Detroit change the way you think about the foreclosure mess?
It drove home to an even deeper level the fact that the banks don't want our homes, they want the foreclosures and will do whatever necessary to get the foreclosure completed to trigger the casino for their own profit. We saw hundreds of blocks of inner city neighborhoods that were devastated. The people we spoke with still living in the neighborhoods told us that their communities were clean well maintained places to live before 2008. The banks didn't even lock the homes up after foreclosure so they were immediately vandalized by desperate people who are now chronically unemployed. The weather has destroyed old brick homes that are now full of black mold from water damage and can never be lived in again. You can buy a home in Detroit for $2500. We did not get to the suburbs but were told they too are being hit now.
When you walked through those neighborhoods and talked to people how did you feel?
It was emotionally crushing to speak to individuals and families about what the banks have done and will continue to do all over America. It was sobering to see the impact in communities of color who were targeted for some of the worst loans and have benefited least from government programs for homeowners in distress. I came away with the question "how low will they go?" (As low as we let them I’m afraid.) It was so graphic to see what Wall Street is willing to do to our communities and to our country. We must stop this! But there was also a lot of hope because the culture in Detroit is one where neighbors come out to support each other in solidarity. This was very inspiring to see.
When you heard from other groups working to stop foreclosures, and shared your work how did you feel?
Empowered and more committed to our work. I also realized how much progress we have made. It seems slow one day at a time but it became very clear what progress we have made in Oregon over the last three years.
What was the most valuable thing you learned on this trip?
The importance of passion in our work. The Black and Latino communities we met in Detroit had so much passion and support for their neighbors that we could learn from. We have so much more power when we unite.
What role do you see national networks playing in the work of Project REconomy?
Stronger networks and better coordination are vital to our work. We need to continue to link up and share ideas. What works best in one state might not in another but variations of tactics and strategies can be applied all over the nation giving a voice to the people and a coordinated push back on the Wall Street Banks. We are committed to continuing to coordinate with leaders around the nation and this conference was a great opportunity to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
What did Project REconomy contribute to the conference?
We shared the story of our success on small wins that built to larger wins and community awareness over time. We also shared how we use research to get strategic wins. We were told on numerous occasions that the information we shared put a very new twist on how they saw the problem and how they could address it. It was an honor to listen and share in a community of leaders committed to ending foreclosure and restoring our communities.
What new strategies do you see now?
Our experience in Detroit opened new possibilities for action on several levels, from targeted actions to gain leverage against the banks like stopping the so-called “arms length agreement” on short sale buy-backs to countywide, statewide and nationwide foreclosure moratoriums. We are exploring what steps can be taken to create these in our region.
What is a national moratorium on foreclosures, and how would it benefit Oregon?
A national moratorium on foreclosures could be done many different ways but it would basically say that the banks couldn't foreclose and evict homeowners for a certain period of time. This would benefit our members, and all homeowners, while stabilizing communities, buying time, and creating real pressure on the banks to come to the table and create long-term solutions to the foreclosure crisis that benefit our communities.
What is the next step to move forward with moratoriums?
We are researching county and state level moratoriums right now and supporting a bill in the House of Representatives that would create a national foreclosure moratorium. This bill was introduced by a representative from Detroit that we had the honor of hearing speak at the conference.
What can people do right now to support a moratorium?
You can read about the national foreclosure moratorium bill, and sign the petition asking congress to pass it, here.
We are also urging people to call their representatives in congress and ask them to support H.R. 4848 The Save Our Neighborhoods Act of 2012. To find your members of congress click here or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office.
How does your experience in Detroit impact your daily work?
As I return to my desk in Southern Oregon, to my endlessly ringing phone and stacks of emails two quotes from the conference keep coming to mind: "We need feet in the street" and "We need the neighbors back in the hood." These are the two challenges that now lie before us. The groundwork is laid, it’s time for mobilization. We need a movement to demand a foreclosure moratorium while we work for long-term solutions for our communities. That is how we will bring the neighbors "back to the hood."
Moratorium Now! coalition members in Detroit
From left to right: Mark Thomas (Project REconomy) Cheryl Aichele (Occupy LA)
Nancie Koerber (Project REconomy) local homeowner who saved her home,
and Carlos Marroquin (Occupy LA)
Thank you to Occupy L.A. for the photo.