Forced out of work by five heart attacks and three rotator cuff injuries, Bobby Hull, a marine who served during the Vietnam era, had struggled to make his mortgage payments, and until recently, was resigned to losing the Minneapolis home that has stayed in his family for 43 years.
But the efforts of the city's Occupy movement, Occupy Minneapolis, and local like-minded advocacy groups has infused the construction worker with new hope.
"It's been a big relief," says the former Marine, who since retiring from the military has made his living as a mason and plasterer. "I'm not trying to have false hope. But I'm hopeful."
Starting today, Occupy Minneapolis, in coordination with a local housing advocacy group, expects to launch an extended sit-in to protest Hull's eviction. They plan to pitch tents, erect protest banners and transform the home into a "community hub," as they await his planned February eviction, which they've vowed to resist.
The protest coincides with a nationwide anti-foreclosure offensive scheduled to kick off tomorrow. Signaling a shift in tactics amid the removal of protesters from public spaces around the country, Occupy movements in many cities are planning similar sit-ins at the homes of beleaguered homeowners. In fact, today marks the official launch of Occupy Our Homes, an anti-foreclosure campaign, which according to Salon, is expected to happen in 20 cities.
The protest effort at Hull's home offers a window into the mechanics of this new tactic, which often appear to grow out of cross-pollination between seasoned advocacy groups and Occupy protestors.
"We've developed a model that I hope will become a national model for how this works," says Anthony Newby, an organizer for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, which facilitated the sit-in. "We want to identify homeowners who are going to foreclosure, and then we just leverage the momentum of Occupy to create community support for people in crisis."
Nick Espinosa, an organizer for Occupy Minneapolis, along with his fellow protesters, originally learned of Hull's situation after canvassing with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, according to the housing group's executive director, Steve Fletcher. At Espinosa's request, Fletcher gave the protesters a crash course on canvassing so that they could reach out to foreclosure victims in a professional manner. After the training, Occupy protesters and members of the housing group used a list of locals facing eviction -- compiled by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change -- to track down struggling homeowners that were open to their support. That's how they found Hull.
Espinosa said Neighborhoods Organizing for Change has been an "incredible help in helping us to learn more what [protest of foreclosures] "looks like."
Previously, Occupy Minneapolis had staged a short-lived occupation at another foreclosed home; it ended in arrests. In that case, Occupy protesters themselves discovered the homeowner, says Fletcher, after she showed up in Hennepin County Government Plaza to share her story. Regardless of what have inspired the three protests, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change members have participated with Occupy Minneapolis in all of them.
Occupying foreclosed homes appears to be one of the most effective ways for the movement to adapt in the face of such crackdowns, says Espinosa.
"It does seem like this is the direction of where a lot of this energy is going," Espinosa says. "It's a way to bring the fight from Wall Street onto Main Street ... to really get neighborhoods in a tangible way where they see what we have to offer them."
For the extended sit-in at Hull's home, protesters will set up tents and transform the house into a "community hub," where protesters will hold meetings and enlist the support of neighbors.
Espinosa says protesters will encourage community members to sign a pledge to resist Hull's eviction, support a moratorium on foreclosures and defy their own possible evictions.
Hull, who served as a demolitions instructor during the Vietnam era, has lived in his home since 1968, when his mother purchased it. The title later was transferred to him, and he eventually paid off the loan.
But about four years ago he took out a $250,000 loan on the home to start a contracting business. Shortly thereafter, he suffered five heart attacks and three rotator cuff injuries. With no steady paycheck, he tried for two years to negotiate a loan modification with Bank of America.
But that didn't happen, and in an event that speaks volumes about the housing bust's devastating impact on real estate values around the country, Hull's lifelong home sold at auction for a mere $83,700, nearly $200,000 less than what he owed on it.
"I should be able to be back to work by February," he said. "If they had just postponed it, I could be back to work."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described Hull as a Vietnam veteran. He did not serve in Vietnam but as a demolitions instructor during the Vietnam era.
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