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How Much of Your Income Goes Toward Rent? For 11 Million, Shelter Comes at a High Price

The “Homes For All!” campaign launched nationwide Wednesday to demand affordable, secure homes.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa

 

“Recovery” is a hot word these days. According to the mainstream media, the economy is on its way toward recovery. Unemployment? Recovering. And the housing crisis apparently is recovering, too.

But for millions of Americans, nothing is “recovering” — instead things are getting worse. In fact, 11 million renters currently pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing. Meanwhile, 15 million “underwater” homeowners pay inflated mortgages and an estimated 3 million families and individuals are homeless. That’s why 11 cities held demonstrations on Wednesday to launch the new nationwide “Homes For All!” campaign, which demands affordable and secure housing.

In Oakland, C.A., Causa Justa, a grassroots, social justice organization, hosted a rally in which several residents struggling with housing shared their stories on Wednesday. Here are some of their stories:

Margarita Ramirez

Margarita Ramirez and her family were currently in the process of modifying a loan for her home with Bank of America when they suddenly sold her home without even letting her know. She turned to Causa Justa for help with getting her home back and has been fighting for her home for more than a year. Meanwhile, she has been renting the home she once owned. She called on Obama to hold Bank of America, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae accountable.

She said, “We have been living in our home for the past 14 years, and this is a home that Fannie Mae says belongs to them. But it doesn’t. This is our home. Because we have paid for it with our hard work and our struggle.”

Thelma Gooch

Thelma Gooch had lived in her home for 38 years. She took out a bad bank loan to fix up her home, and was having trouble paying for the remaining $4,500. When she applied for a reverse mortgage through a government-funded mortgage company, they said needed four weeks to pay off her bank loan. But Gooch’s bank wanted the money in one week, and so they set a foreclosure date for June 2012. Gooch remained in her house until January 2012, when the county police came knocking at her door. The police threatened to put her in jail if she didn’t open the door. Shocked, and having bad asthma, Gooch passed out. After she left her home, she asked if she could go back to sort through her belongings, but the realtors locked her out. Her house was ultimately sold for a fraction of what it was worth.

Zenia Alvarado

Zenia Alvarado has lived in San Francisco’s Bayview district for eight years. Because of the high cost of housing in the city, she lives in a small apartment with her family — knowing that she will never be able to afford her own home. Alvarado said her family pays nearly 70 percent of their income on rent each month. The rest is used to get by.

Alvarado’s real struggles began when her landlord illegally increased her rent. As a rent-controlled tenant, Alvarado fought back with Causa Justa but to no avail. Her landlord ignored the letters and started verbally harassing her. He blocked her access to her mail and began entering her unit without notice to remodel the apartment — doing everything he could to kick Alvarado out so he could rent the place for more money.

Alvarado has a court hearing in the near future, but said this abuse has left her and her family emotionally scarred. She said when the landlord first began remodeling her apartment in their absence, her young daughter came home to the place in shambles and thought they had been robbed. Alvarado said, “my daughter reacted very violently it’s something I have never seen her done before.”

Alvarado concluded, “We know who these white collar thieves are, coming into our communities and taking our wealth.” That’s why she’s urging the government to stop protecting them and start protecting us.

Minnie Galloway

After a few more speakers, those at the rally marched across the street toward Chase bank, where they gathered to listen to speakers who were currently fighting Chase to stay in their homes. Minnie Galloway, 74, could barely hold back her tears when she spoke in front of the bank on Wednesday. JP Morgan Chase is currently in the process of foreclosing the home she lived in for 40 years. It’s where she raised her son and her grandchildren, and she said, “The possibility of having to leave my home is like giving up a big part of myself.”

Stifling tears, Galloway explained that after she retired from her government job as a nurse’s assistant at a veterans’ center, she was hoping to be able to enjoy her home and volunteering in her community. But her mortgage started going up due to her predatory loan she took out to fix her house, and so she could no longer afford payment. She said Chase tried to convince her to do a short sale or file for bankruptcy —ultimately working against her so she would lose her home.

Galloway said she wants the banks to know that the people will keep fighting to stay in their homes. “We are only asking for something that we should already have,” she said. “That is liberty, equality and justice.”

Continuing the Fight

In the upcoming months, Causa Justa, along with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Tenants Together, will be working on local ways in Oakland to fight for fair housing while pushing for the campaign’s national efforts. These efforts include reforming the Mortgage Interest Deduction to gain revenue to expand affordable housing as well as preserve existing public housing. The campaign also calls for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and private banks to donate properties to non-profits and Community Land Trusts — which would create opportunities for the people to collectively own housing. “Homes for All!” also demands underwater mortgages are reset to current home values and Ed Demarco, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is replaced with someone that shares their goals. The campaign estimates that the work needed to resolve the housing crisis would also create more than two million jobs.

And while the campaign mainly calls on the government to provide secure housing, others suggested Wall St. should also pay a price. Co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, DeAnn McEwen also spoke at the rally, emphasizing that the “Robin Hood Tax” could bring in $350 billion a year that could go toward affordable housing.

Alma Blackwell, a member leader for Causa Justa, said that events like this rally are important for showing people that people are still suffering from the economic crisis, despite the recent positive rhetoric.

“It’s good that people are coming out to tell their stories,” she said. “These personal stories bring light to the actual crisis that’s happening, so we can know and see what’s really going on.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.