Victims of the foreclosure mess and housing crisis are taking to the streets -- literally. Street demonstrations are being planned in 10 cities, and in the crowd at the first one you are going to see Dixie Mitchell, a 74-year-old cancer survivor who refinanced her paid-off home to help one of the foster kids in her care -- and is now losing it in a foreclosure.
Mitchell (pictured at left), who along with her 76-year-old husband raised eight biological children and 50 foster children in this house, says that she intends to make her voice heard loud and clear as she marches in front of bank offices in Seattle on Sept. 21. The march is the first in a 10-city rollout of protests organized by The New Bottom Line, a coalition of community groups that challenges big banks' role in the housing crisis.
Mitchell's story is particularly heart-wrenching: She and her husband were doing just fine living in the house they've owned for 44 years until he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and cost him his job. The house was fully paid off in the mid-1980s, but they borrowed against it to make roof and kitchen repairs. The straw that broke the camel's back came in 2005, when Mitchell needed to hire a lawyer, at a cost of $20,000, in an effort to keep a 3-year-old boy who had been in her care since he was an infant.
She was advised by the bank to refinance her house to get the cash. She took out an adjustable rate loan that would reset in two years, at which point, Mitchell says, the lender told her that she would be able to refinance into another 30-year-fixed rate loan. But the original loan was bundled and sold multiple times to different lenders. It reset to a higher rate right around the time her husband suffered a massive stroke, and she quickly fell behind in her payments. Without his earnings, her monthly income is just $2,200 in Social Security and her monthly mortgage is $2,568.
Mitchell filed for bankruptcy, tried getting assistance from every social service agency she could think of, spent two years trying to get a loan modification and even offered to rent out rooms to boarders if the bank would just let her keep her house.
"My husband wants to die at home, at our home," she says. Her home is set to be auctioned on Oct. 28 and she has no place to go.
Why is she going to participate in the demonstration?
"I need them [the bank] to look me in the eye and tell me why they think it's better to put people out in the street," she said. "They haven't done their share to help. They don't even give you a chance ... all they do is lose your paperwork and make you send it over and over again. Each time you talk to somebody, you get a different answer."
Those are sentiments shared by many.
LeeAnn Hall, executive director of Alliance for a Just Society and one of the organizational members of The New Bottom Line, said the Seattle area protests will be staged both in downtown Seattle and at the annual policy summit meeting of the Association of Washington Business, a statewide chamber of commerce. The meeting is being held in Suncadia, a mountain resort near Cle Elum, Wash. The governor is expected to attend the meeting and Hall said that the group hopes to engage her.
Subsequent demonstrations are planned across the country in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and other locations.
The New Bottom Line said that it is targeting "big banks that bankrupted the country and drained wealth from American families." The direct actions primarily target JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and include taking over bank buildings, meetings of corporate officials, civil disobedience, prayer vigils and mass mobilizations.
"We are struggling with less and less, while the big banks profit more and more," said George Goehl, executive director of National People's Action, another organizational member of The New Bottom Line. "The big banks have done nothing but dodge taxes, throw people out of their homes and choke small business, all the while draining our wealth to pad their bottom line. It's time for JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo to pay us back."
According to a press statement, the group's goals are that banks:
• Pay their fair share of taxes -- their statutorily required 35 percent corporate income tax and not "game" the system through off-shore tax shelters and loopholes.
• Stabilize the housing market and revitalize the economy by reducing principal for all underwater homeowners to current-market value. "This would end the foreclosure crisis, reset the housing market, pump billions of dollars back into the economy and create one million jobs a year," the group says.
• Invest in American jobs by using their trillions of dollars in cash reserves to invest in small businesses -- the main source of jobs in the U.S. -- and other job-generating investments.