Occupy activists spotlight foreclosure crisis
Occupy Eugene picked a tradition-steeped activity for a Labor Day service project meant to draw attention to the U.S. foreclosure crisis.
Some 20 activist volunteers turned out Monday at the group’s current occupation site: the yard of a Eugene house in foreclosure and empty for more than two years.
Their task? Apply a bright new coat of white paint to the weathered picket fence surrounding the 1920s bungalow at 1191 Lawrence St.
“It’s Americana,” said volunteer Cindy Biles, 57.
“Very Tom Sawyerish,” agreed Gary Harris, 43, alluding to Mark Twain’s young protagonist whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s fence.
“I wanted to come barefoot in a ragged straw hat,” chimed in Graham Lewis, 67.
The group is inviting local residents to visit the occupied property this Friday, when it will offer an art show and open house from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The event will feature painting, sculpture, photography and mixed-media works inspired by and created for the Occupy movement.
Signs erected by the group in the yard of the vacant house proclaim that 4,000 Lane County residents are homeless – including 2,000 children and youths. The group also issued a statement declaring that 7,437 foreclosures have been filed in Lane County since 2008.
The rate appears to be slowing, however, with Lane County foreclosures down 24 percent in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 2011, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based firm that tracks foreclosures nationwide.
The firm reported that 673 Lane County households – less than 0.5 percent of all households – received a foreclosure notice between January 1 and June 30, 2012.
Among them is a River Road area house Occupy volunteer Vickie Embree purchased in 2008 – just before the bottom fell out of the national housing market.
“I never thought this would be me,” Embree said.
“The last two homes I bought, I left with a bunch of money to put toward my next house.”
That’s not happening this time.
“I bought this house for $190,000,” she said. “I still owe $170,000, and it’s only worth $130,000.” registerguard.com
Occupy spokeswoman Lea DeVeau said the group took up foreclosure as an action area because “so many people in foreclosure are just buried in shame.”
“They feel it’s their fault, but it’s the banks that have exploited them,” she said. “The foreclosure crisis is a symptom of the greater economic crisis generated by the greed of the big banks and Wall Street. “They created a housing bubble and mortgage mills, earning millions and millions in fees, then betting against the mortgages.
“Banks are making money again after trillions in government handouts and bailouts. But 1 out of 4 homeowners is underwater on their mortgage.”
The group began camping outside the Lawrence Street house nearly six weeks ago because it seemed “a poster child” for the continuing foreclosure crisis and it’s impact on entire communities, DeVeau said.
The yard was overgrown and had been used as a toilet and a garbage dump by some people living on the streets. The volunteers pulled weeds, trimmed plants and removed trash – bags and bags of human castoffs that included syringes, used condoms and human feces, the volunteers said.
The group tried in vain to reach the property’s owner, Karen Atkinson, whose address is still listed as 1191 Lawrence St. in county tax records but who reportedly has moved out of state, DeVeau said.
After Occupy volunteers erected a tent and began maintaining a presence outside the house, Eugene police tracked down Atkinson to notify her, DeVeau said. Instead of demanding the group’s ouster, however, Atkinson asked to talk to its representatives. registerguard.com
FACTS & FIGURES
Sales of bank-owned homes and those already on the foreclosure path fell sharply in the second quarter, reflecting a thinner slate of properties for sale in many cities as banks take a measured approach to placing homes on the market, according to the Associated Press.
As of July, there were 1.47 million U.S. homes in some stage of the foreclosure process or owned by banks. Of the 620,751 in lenders’ possession, only about 15 percent are listed for sale, according to RealtyTrac.
All told, 224,429 homes in the foreclosure sales category were purchased in the second quarter. That’s down 12 percent from the first three months of the year and down 22 percent from the second quarter last year, RealtyTrac said. Despite the decline in foreclosure sales, their share of all home sales grew.
According to The New York Times, roughly four million families lost their homes to foreclosure between the beginning of 2007 and early 2012.