By Zaineb Mohammed, New America Media
SAN FRANCISCO – Carolyn Gage was evicted from her foreclosed home in January. Earlier this month, she moved back in.
"I've been in here for 50 years. I know no other place but here. I left and it was just time for me to come back home," said Gage, who is in her mid-50s.
Gage's monthly payments spiked after her adjustable rate mortgage kicked in, and she could no longer afford the payments on her three-bedroom house in the city's Bayview Hunters Point district. She says she tried to modify her loan with her lender, Florida-based IB Properties, but to no avail.
When Gage initially left about 10 months ago, she took some personal items with her, but left most of the furniture and continued paying for some utilities.
"It didn't feel right for me to move. I just left my things because I knew I was going to return to them eventually," she said.
She had to re-activate a few utilities when she returned, like the water, but found the process fairly easy.
Walking back into the house was an emotional moment for Gage, but a joyous one.
"I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; there's no place like home," Gage said. "It's a family home; I plan to stay there."
Gage was one of about two dozen homeowners who gathered Tuesday for a community potluck on Quesada Avenue for residents facing foreclosure and are refusing to leave their homes.
Homeowners expressed outrage at the way predatory lenders have targeted their community.
Residents of the Bayview are starting to see how the African-American community was especially victimized in the foreclosure crisis.
Gage believes that single women and elders in the black community were targeted for predatory loans. At the peak of the housing boom she was solicited for an adjustable rate loan to do some home improvements, even though she told the loan agent that she was on disability and did not have a steady income.
According to a report released last week by the Center for Responsible Lending, African Americans and Latinos were consistently more likely than whites to receive high-risk loan products. About a quarter of all Latino and African-American borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent, compared to under 12 percent for white borrowers.
Bayview residents Reverend Archbishop Franz King and Reverend Mother Marina King, who are founders of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, are also facing foreclosure. Their eviction date is set for Dec. 22.
King expressed deep anger and sorrow at the situation facing the black community in the Bayview.
"First redevelopment moved us out of the Fillmore and now we're losing our properties too? It's like there's nowhere for us to go," he said.
Grace Martinez, an organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who helped to arrange the event, commented that banks have become increasingly hostile to their efforts. "They call the police on us; they laugh at us."
Vivian Richardson, a homeowner on Quesada Avenue whose house was also foreclosed on, also has no intention of leaving. Her current eviction date is set for Dec. 31, but she, like many of her neighbors, is asking her lender to reduce the principal on her loan in order to make the monthly payments more affordable.
Richardson has been attempting to modify her home loan for the past two years. Earlier this month, tired of the lack of communication from the lender, Aurora Loan Services based in Delaware, she worked with ACCE to coordinate an e-mail blast to Aurora's chairman.
On Nov. 3, over the span of one to two hours, approximately 1,400 emails were sent and more than 100 phone calls made, imploring Chairman Theodore P. Janulis to stop Richardson's eviction. A spokesperson from the bank called her an hour after the blast and asked her to send an updated set of financial information so that they could review her case.
Two weeks have passed and she has yet to hear anything further. The bank spokesperson commented that Richardson's case is still being reviewed internally and they hope to get back to her by the end of next week.
However, Richardson has lived in her house for 13 years and plans to stay regardless of the bank's decision.
"I will defend the home," she said.
On Dec. 6, there will be a national day of action, "Occupy Our Homes," where people across the country facing predicaments similar to Gage and Richardson may follow their lead.
Partly inspired by the Occupy movement, the day of action is supported by various community organizations like Take Back the Land and ACCE. The call to action is for people to move back into their foreclosed properties and to defend the properties of families facing eviction.
Martinez commented on the growing anger people are feeling. "The idea is, 'I want what's mine.'" She said many homeowners had trusted the banks and ultimately, "People were buying into a lie."