Protesters 'Liberate' Foreclosed Homes

protesters foreclosures

When Virginia Henry bought her boarded-up and abandoned Rochester, N.Y., home in December 2007, she saw potential where others were blind to it. The house, a short sale, became her home to live in and care for, she said. She plopped down her $20,000 and filed her paperwork for a loan program that would pay the balance -- $43,000 -- to rehabilitate the property.

But what followed was a series of unanswered calls and letters to Bank of America, Henry says, eventually culminating in her arrest Friday for a charge of trespassing on her own front lawn. The arrest, like much of this story, is the source of a dispute. Henry asserts police officers shoved her to the ground during the arrest, police claim she fainted from the intense heat. She has a court date for the trespassing charge July 28.

The facts of the short sale are also at issue. The bank has told Henry that the short sale never closed and that the house at 5 Appleton St. -- with all her worldly possessions trapped inside -- is no longer hers. A Bank of America spokeswoman, Jumana Bauwens, said she would investigate the claims.

"This is my home," Henry told AOL Real Estate in a phone interview after the arrest. "How can I be trespassing in my own home?"

protesters foreclosuresProtesters Step In

While the facts of the case may be murky, one thing isn't: Henry's plight is a perfect opportunity for Take Back the Land to step in. The group, founded by Miami activist Max Rameau (who's pictured above being arrested there in June 2010) is a small but growing movement that aims to change the way the public views housing. TBTL accomplishes this by taking over government- and bank-owned properties and putting otherwise homeless people in them. And they also fight homeowner evictions, like that of Mrs. Henry (pictured at left in front of the house in question) and her family of four.

Rochester TBTL leader Ryan Acuff, interviewed in the video below, was on the scene Friday. He confirmed the 57-year-old Henry's account of being pushed to the ground and handcuffed by police.

"We heard about this going on and came out to support her," Acuff said. Rochester police did not return AOL Real Estate's calls.

The group has some notable experience on this front. Last spring it helped Catherine Lennon, also of Rochester, N.Y., stay in her house of seven years. Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings shortly after Lennon's husband died of cancer. Fannie Mae took over the home and proceeded to evict the extended family of 11 last March. Take Back the Land blockaded the home for two weeks, preventing the family from being forced out. It ended with a police team physically evicting them and arresting seven people, including a 70-year-old neighbor still in her pajamas.

Still, the point was made. And Lennon by the way, is back in the house, which is just a few blocks away from Henry's.

Rameau says, "We are challenging corporations' right to own thousands of homes that they keep vacant while human beings are left homeless. The fundamental purpose of housing should be to house humans. Right now, housing is a corporate profit center."

Call it civil disobedience with a roof. The thrice-arrested Rameau spearheaded taking over an empty lot in the Liberty City section of Miami in 2006, where he erected a tent city known as Umoja Village, an urban shantytown for dozens of Miami's homeless. ("Umoja" means unity in Swahili.) After celebrating six months of existence, Umoja Village burned to the ground in a suspicious fire on the very day work was to have started replacing the wood shanties with more durable structures. What came of the experience was a book by Rameau and a renewed commitment to turn up the flame on his mission to reform how we view housing in the United States.

Now Rameau has his sights set on the foreclosure crisis. Take Back the Land has installed homeless families in about 20 government- and bank-owned homes, and he's helped homeowners fight evictions during the foreclosure process.

A Civil Rights Movement?

Rameau likens what he does to the civil rights movement. His home squatters, he said, are the equivalent of those who defied Jim Crow laws and rode in the front of the bus, used whatever public water fountain they wanted and demanded to be let in race-segregated schools.

By physically liberating land and forming physical barricades to prevent evictions in major cities including Miami, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Toledo, Chicago and Sacramento -- about 20 times -- his movement has garnered national attention.

The hope when he "liberates" a house is to have the family stay in it for as long as possible, he says, but the underlying goal is raise public awareness. And to spark that broader social discussion, a confrontation is necessary.

The government- and bank-owned homes that Take Back the Land targets are all in good condition and up to code. "No 'holes in the floorboards' kind of places," he says. The group insists that the family that moves in turn on the electricity and water and have the means to pay those bills. The squatting family is also expected to maintain the home and be a good neighbor -- no loud parties or anything to disturb the neighbors.

Most neighbors, Rameau said, are supportive. "They are glad the house isn't empty anymore and someone is there to take care of it." While most of the homes are in low-income neighborhoods, the group has gotten calls from residents of "better" neighborhoods, Rameau said, asking if they can take over a house in their midst.

While Texan Kenneth Robinson -- the guy who recently took possession of a foreclosed $300,000 house for a mere $16 by filing a claim of "adverse possession" of the property -- is not part of the Take Back the Land movement, the reaction of some of Robinson's neighbors is something that Rameau sees regularly. "Some people feel angry because they see it as somehow unfair that they have to pay rent or a mortgage and 'Why not the squatter?'" he said.

What are your thoughts about it? Squatters or liberators? Post your comment below.

Also see:
Singer Carnie Wilson Could Lose House to Foreclosure
Is R. Kelly Facing Foreclosure by Choice?
Your Facebook Status: Foreclosed

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Here's a title search report on the property showing outstanding liens and a mortgage history. I found this within 30 minutes of online searching.

This woman does not have my sympathy.

BTW, this matches what I found here:
‎"i virginia Henry and Latasha Goins please call 585-235-4566 we have a real mess with 2 properties at 5-11 appleton street Rochester new york 14611 and 46-48 Augustine street Rochester new york 14613 property was sold 4-22-08 sold and tranferred fro mark Lovewell in Calif. now Countrywide for months REFUSED to accept any payoff or short sale offer for almost a year now. last week i got a letter in 5 days auction date sale i have a pre approval for months now waiting for an approval amount from country we NEED HELP TO keep our properties after REHAB on both abandon ,distree properties were appraised at 63,000 countrywide would not accept first offer 63k,so then we offered 90k on each...they will not coroprate....we still owe contractors or we will remove all our money, and then it will be worth nothing.... we are trying Everthing i even went to the nys Attorney General office....and HUD,.."


August 16 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let me distill this for you.
Virginia Henry purchased a home from John Doe.
John Doe had purchased the home with a mortgage from a bank who in return placed a lien (ownership claim) on the property until this loan was paid.
John Doe decided to stop making his mortgage payments, become delinquent, and still attempt to find a buyer for his home (and someone to take responsibility for his delinquent payments).
John Doe does not own his home because a lien is in the possession of the bank, and the bank refuses to release the lien they have on the property unless arrears (debt) are paid.
Virginia Henry pays John Doe money for the home, however, since the delinquent mortgage payments have not been made, the bank retains ownership of the property and the right to foreclose until these debts are paid.
John Doe is released from his obligations, and Virginia Henry now owns his delinquent mortgaged property and the responsibility to pay arrears. She must pay the debt or be foreclosed.
If Virginia Henry had obtained title insurance before purchasing the home, she could have prevented this by obtaining the home once the debts had been paid and the lien released, known as "clear title." Moreover, she would've been protected from any future financial losses associated with mortgage/lien discrepancies.

These are the most basic processes in purchasing any property. If you buy a car or anything, make sure someone doesn't have a lien on it, and if they do, make sure they've been up-to-date with their payments and that the lien holder is willing to release the lien upon the purchase. It's like you buying a car with a loan, not paying your loan, and then "selling" me the car. Why on earth would anyone buy someone else's delinquent payments?

August 16 2011 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nunya Busnizz

This Henry woman has scammed TBTL and who knows who else, probably the bank too. She was not pushed to the ground. She faked fainting. She was not staying in a hotel, nor is she homeless. She has another house on West Ave. She is playing everyone's concern.

August 12 2011 at 10:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The article stated that Ms Henry paid 20K toward the purchase of the house. THAT IS NOT A FREE RIDE.
WALL STREET Got a free ride, several BANKS and FORTUNE 500 Companies got a free ride. So many of the working class are getting dumped on and told we should like it. We are told that any help we recieve is a hand out and a help up. We are made to feel that we don't deserve help. DON'T BELIEVE THE NONSENSE. THE POLITICAL GROUP PUSHING THAT CONCEPT IS TAKING ALL THE HAND OUTS THEY CAN GET AND I CALL THAT A FREE RIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

August 09 2011 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great country now that we can arbitrarily usurp property from the owners!

Get the money and BUY the house. Meanwhile stop accepting all the freebies from the government. Government support is for children, the elderly and those truly disabled, not for the 18-65 crowd who should be working.

August 02 2011 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with these people it is more important for people to have a roof over thier heads than for a bank to leave it sitting for vandals to destroy .Ihave morgage that i took over from someone filing chapter 7.this was in 1990
at 16%int. my loan has changed hands 4 times and every time i was sent a letter saying i owed accrued int. and it just keeps adding up .because i no longer work and my credit has decreased i can no longer refinance for a lower rste because my creadit is not good enough and my income is not high enough. i bought this place for $24,500and after 20 years i still owe $14,000 .so i can see why these people are so fired up about the banks being so greedy.when i bought this place ,ithought i could have it refinanced and have it paid for
by the time i retaired but now at 69 i may not live long enough to pay for it. and that would make some one real happy because its worth 3 times that much now. i have never missed a payment ,but i have been late
a few times.

August 01 2011 at 6:40 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

While I can see the "business side" of the argument it's an argument that can be taken only so far. The lending institutions have a legal responsibility to ensure that those they lend to can afford the loan (mortgage) they are assuming. That having been said, when it develops that they can't, "walking away" only exasperates an already rapidily deteriorating situation. Conversely, it's should not be percieved as a "ticket for a free ride." Many a homeowner has carried a mortgage to its term absent any assistance or "hand out" made posible via some combination of extraordinary circumstances or found themselves enabled through some obscure quirk in the law. So one has to ask whose more culpable...the Bank or the "Squatter?"

July 31 2011 at 1:55 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

B of A has been known to foreclose on and clear out a house they didn't even own. Going so far as to hire a company to clear it out and lock it up. In this case, the homeowner was out of town on vacation. He had paid for this particular house in full in cash several years earlier and owned it free and clear. Didn't matter. He came home to an empty padlocked house. Last I heard, he still didn't have his stuff back.

July 30 2011 at 12:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Notgonna Givuit

Yup this wouldn't be such a problem IF THE BANKS TOOK CARE OF THE PROPERTY AFTER THEY KICKED OUT THE OCCUPANTS BUT THE REALITY IS IS THAT MOST BANKS DON'T. I dunno what their rush is to kick folks out, it's highly unlikely they can sell the property quickly and recover their losses, I dunno what is is with the banks perhaps they think they are still living pre 2008 real estate meltdown. I see these neighborhoods all over Moreno Valley, Perris and other nearby locales and it's sad, goin down streets of homes for sale and others you know are vacant and very few people living in them.

July 30 2011 at 11:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I would say 90% of the homeless PAYING for the homes are mentally ill and not lazy Fred. When will the disabled be recognized by more than their psychiatrists?

July 29 2011 at 11:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply