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News :: Social Welfare
Heartbreak in Roslindale: The Human Face to the Financial Crisis
28 Sep 2008
Thursday September 25,2008 – As Congress convened in attempts to reach a deal on a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street’s failing investment banks in Washington DC, here in Boston, a human face was put to the crisis—something that no numbers or values can represent.
Thursday September 25,2008 – As Congress convened in attempts to reach a deal on a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street’s failing investment banks in Washington DC, here in Boston, a human face was put to the crisis—something that no numbers or values can represent.

At 3:45 in the afternoon, tears were streaming down Ana Esquivel’s face, her two grandchildren in her arms on the front steps of her house, as the constable hastily delivered the eviction notice. The children in her arms were crying to, and even her reticent husband Raul, was starting to lose it. The family’s belongings sat in large bags outside the front door to what was once their house, waiting to be loaded into a small moving van. They had hastily packed up what few belongings they could take in the minutes before the constable arrived.

But they were certainly not alone. Outside, 40 protestors chanted and almost stopped the constable from arriving that afternoon. “SHAME! SHAME!” they chanted in a unifying crescendo, as the police arrested four activists chained to the front steps, clearing the path for the constable to deliver the eviction notice. The four protestors have been released on bail and all face trespassing charges.

“We are bearing witness to an immoral act.” Steve Meacham’s voice came through loud and clear through his bullhorn. Meacham is an organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, a tenants’ rights organization based in Jamaica Plain, that has done a total of 11 eviction blockades this year. City Life has been at the forefront of a growing movement in Boston, to start fighting back against evictions, and giving people a right to stay in their home. I think it would’ve been hard for anyone to disagree with him.

Ana, 51 and Raul Esquivel, 55 have considered Boston their home for the last 22 years. They are immigrants—Raul is from Guatemala and Ana is from The Dominican Republic. They bought their home at 21-23 Rowe Street in March 2006, with hopes of renting out one half of the house to pay the mortgage. Their bank, Deutsche Bank, had valued the property at $498,000—a gross over-inflation of the actual value. Last year, the Esquivels began falling behind on their payments. They asked Deutsche Bank to refinance. Unfortunately, in a matter of months, the value of their house had dropped to $285,000, making refinancing no longer feasible. Their monthly payments rose from $3,200/month to $4,200/month, an increase that Ana and Raul, who both work, could simply not afford.

Deutsche Bank, the leader in Massachusetts foreclosures this year, foreclosed on the Esquivels house on January 21, 2008. They were supposed to be evicted by July 15. At the time the Esquivels had no lawyer, and until finding City Life, no support to keep their home. But things changed. The couple found City Life, and in return, a way to fight the bank.

Despite all this, Deutsche Bank refused to negotiate with the Esquivels. Raul’s sister even offered to buy the house back at market value—which wouldn’t cost the bank a cent of real money—but the bank still refused to negotiate and instead continued with the eviction. This type of policy has been indicative of the investment banks, whose predatory lending practices have led to a national surge in foreclosures.

“We didn’t think any bank would give us a mortgage they knew we couldn’t afford,” stated Raul prior to the blockade. “But they did. We believed their promise to refinance, but it never happened.”

Once the bank regains the property, it is usually sits vacant, inviting thieves and vandals, bringing down property values and hurting the community. This is another reason why City Life calls the blockades—in an effort to help not just one family, but the immediate community.

The scene on Thursday started at around 11:30am when activists for City Life began showing up on the usually quiet Rowe Street. The police arrived too, and parked a patty-wagon on the street. In high spirits, the activists involved in the blockade took their seats on the concrete stairs, while others grabbed signs and started a moving picket on the street.

“We’re planning on being arrested today,” stated Gerry Scoppettuolo, an activist with City Life and the Women’s Fightback Network as he took his seat on the steps.

As of late, the city has turned up the heat on eviction blockades. On September 5, an eviction blockade in Roxbury ended with four activists being arrested by police after a standoff that lasted more than an hour. However, none of them were charged.

By Thursday morning, the options for Ana and Raul were dwindling and the blockade seemed the only viable option. They went to court that morning with hopes of securing a restraining order against the bank, but to no avail.

They made their return right before noon, the time when the constable was scheduled to deliver the eviction notice. The Esquivels are happy to see so many supporters around their house, but still quite visibly worried. Noon came and went, and the constable didn’t show.

“We’re taking a stand against bank evictions, not just for ourselves, but for the whole Latino community,” stated Raul Esquivel in a press-release. “So many people are being evictions who shouldn’t be evicted. We didn’t know our rights when we went to court with the Deutsche Bank. Now we do.”

At 12:30 Steve Meacham gets word that the bank is backing off, meaning the Esquivels are guaranteed another 48 hours and the weekend. The jubilant crowd goes into a version of “We shall not be moved,” and Ana is smiling and hugging the protestors. Meacham lets people know that it still is uncertain whether the bank is actually backing off—if the information was actually legitimate.

Then, curiously another patty-wagon shows up five minutes later. The police aren’t going anywhere, but they are not happy either.

“This could be me,” says a police sergeant at the scene, shaking his head. “This could be any of us.”

At 1pm the bad news arrives. “The constable is still coming,” announces Meacham. “He will be here at 2:30.” Most of the mainstream press is gone now, and many of protestors have to leave, but those who remain are still determined to stay.

Eventually, the protest started up again, and 2:30 passes, and still the constable hasn’t arrived. Sprits are still high.

“There is a rising tide of resistance,” yells Meacham into the bullhorn. “A movement is growing.”

The activists chained to the front steps also get a chance to speak out.

“Where is the city saying ‘this has to stop,’” said Soledad Lawrence, who was later arrested. “The people are victorious today… The whole world is watching.”

The constable didn’t arrive until 3:10, and then he paced back and forth nervously near his car, avoiding the growing group of protestors while talking on his cell phone. Many protestors who had left earlier returned with friends.

Then, Ana grabs the bullhorn to address the crowd, tears already dripping down her face. “We might lose today, to the banks,” she said. “But we have our dignity… and that’s more than a house.”

Eventually word came that the constable was not backing off and as the inevitable unfolded, Ana’s eyes maintained that dignity. She had done all that she could.

Yet, the Esquivels are only one family in the midst of a national foreclosure crisis. Investment banks have taken advantage of many families like theirs, who were sold predatory home loans that the bank knew they would not be able to pay back. These types of practices, going mostly unregulated by the government, exemplify the greedy chicanery of these organizations. And now, as these banks themselves are beginning to fail, the government has seemingly taken their side by offering to bail them out in hopes of retaining stock market values, while the families who are victims of the banks’ practices, are indiscriminately thrown out onto the streets.

In Massachusetts alone, over 30,000 households face evictions in the next year. How many of them will lose their homes it is tough to say. What we do know is that no matter who is elected president, who controls congress, and what decision they make to try and “rescue” our economy, it is up to local communities to fight this struggle. When banks refuse to negotiate, and politicians refuse to listen, it is only our neighbors, and local organizations that can start to turn the tide.

For any homeowners facing eviction, or anyone who wants to get involved in the struggle, City Life and the Bank Tenants’ Association meet at 6:30pm at 284 Amory Street, in Jamaica Plain. All are welcome.

This work is in the public domain