Twenty miles east of Atlanta, about 35 people gathered in a church parking lot in Stone Mountain, Ga on Monday. Despite the fact that the rain was pouring down, spirits were high and the excitement was visible on many faces. They were there to help Mildred -- a neighbor, community member, and friend -- move into her home.
There were no leases signed or keys obtained from a landlord though. Instead, the group was reclaiming the home back from the bank.
Mildred Garrison-Obi, or Obi as many of her friends call her, was evicted from her home by force last November. After the eviction, Mildred was left with nowhere to go, sleeping on friends couches, or renting a room at the local extended stay hotel. She began attending weekly meetings held by Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, and after helping to move a young homeless family into a bank owned home in December, Mildred was inspired to keep fighting and take her own home back from the bank.
She bought the house in 1998 for just over $70,000 with a mortgage from Countrywide. In 2008, after the financial crisis caused the economy to collapse, Mildred lost her job and fell behind on her payments. As a senior in her 60s, she found it increasingly difficult to find employment. When the bills started to pile up, she contacted Bank of America, who had acquired Countrywide earlier that year and now serviced her loan. In August of 2009, despite her best efforts to work out a modification with them, Bank of America sold her home on the Dekalb County courthouse steps.
It was only after the foreclosure that Mildred realized her loan was part of a securitized trust overseen by US Bank. As was the case in most foreclosures filed in 2009, the documents used to take her home were fraudulent and robo-signed. For years she fought to have the foreclosure rescinded, going back and forth between Bank of America and US Bank, who both refused to claim responsibility.
In 2012 she even submitted her case to the Independent Foreclosure Review Board, which was created as part of the $25 billion settlement with the state AGs, promising relief to homeowners foreclosed on between 2009-2010. The process turned out to be a waste of time, and in November, she was evicted from her home. Not surprisingly, just a couple of months later, after little to no relief had reached homeowners, the OCC declared the Independent Foreclosure Review Board a failure and did away with the program all together.
Today, Mildred’s neighbors, along with supporters from Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, National Action Network, and the SCLC, marched through Mildred's neighborhood, holding banners and wearing orange vests emblazoned with Occupy Homes, chanting "ain't nobody gonna turn me around" and singing songs from the civil rights movement. When they reached the house, people circled around to listen as Reverend Kelvin Peterson, Mildred's longtime pastor, recited a prayer, referencing the cruelty of leaving thousands of homes vacant while people were left out in the cold, repeatedly asking "where is God?"
Emotions were high as Mildred finally approached the door to the home that was stolen from her. As the crowd shouted, “turn the key, Mildred”, she turned around to shout a simple, yet powerful statement back; “I’m not homeless, Hallelujah, I’m not homeless anymore,” before inviting everyone to come in.
Once in the house, an assembly line was set up to bring her belongings inside and people began to clean up the mess left by the eviction crew, and from the home sitting empty for months. By the time the sun went down, it began to feel like any other home where friends gathered to eat dinner and share stories together.
It's still uncertain what happens next, but for now one thing is clear; tonight there is one less vacant house in Stone Mountain, and as Mildred emotionally stated earlier in the day, she's home.