As Congress convened to reach a deal on a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street’s failing investment banks in Washington, DC, a human face was put to the crisis. In Boston, at 3:45 PM on Thursday, September 24, tears were streaming down Ana Esquivel’s face, her two grandchildren in her arms on the front steps of her house, as a constable delivered an eviction notice. The family’s belongings sat in large bags outside the front door. 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, 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,” said Steve Meacham an organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, a tenants’ rights organization based in Jamaica Plain that has done 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. Lately, the city has turned up the heat on eviction blockades. On September 5, an eviction blockade in Roxbury ended with four activists arrested by police after a standoff that lasted more than an hour. (None of them were charged.)
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 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 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 not afford.
Deutsche Bank, a leader in Massachusetts foreclosures this year, foreclosed on the Esquivels’ house on January 21, 2008. They were 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. The couple found City Life and 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, but the bank refused and continued with the eviction.
“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.”
From YouTube video posted by Aaron Tanaka
The scene on Thursday started at around 11:30 AM when activists for City Life began showing up on the usually quiet Rowe Street. The police arrived and parked a paddy wagon. Some activists took their seats on the concrete stairs, while others grabbed signs and started a moving picket. “We’re planning on being arrested today,” stated Gerry Scoppettuolo, an activist with City Life and the Women’s Fightback Network.
By Thursday morning, options fading, Ana and Raul went to court hoping to secure a restraining order against the bank, but to no avail. They returned home just before noon, the time when the constable was to deliver the eviction notice. The Esquivels were happy to see so many supporters around their house, but were 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 evicted 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 PM, Meacham got word that the bank was backing off, meaning the Esquivels were guaranteed another 48 hours and the weekend. Then, curiously, another paddy wagon showed up. The police weren’t going anywhere, but they were not happy either. “This could be me,” said a police sergeant at the scene, shaking his head. “This could be any of us.”
At 1:00 PM, the bad news arrived. “The constable is still coming,” announced Meacham. “He will be here at 2:30.” The protest started again. Sprits were high. The activists chained to the front steps spoke out. “Where is the city saying, ‘This has to stop,’” asked Soledad Lawrence, who was later arrested.
The constable didn’t arrive until 3:10 PM. Many protestors who had left earlier returned with friends. Ana grabbed the bullhorn to address the crowd, “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 the inevitable unfolded.
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 for short term profits that the bank knew they would not be able to pay back. These types of practices, going mostly unregulated by the government, exemplify the greed of these organizations.
In Massachusetts over 30,000 households face eviction in the next year. 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 turn the tide.
Jeffrey Reinhardt writes for the Boston Independent Media Center.