Grassroots pressure from NEW ROAD, a regional network fighting foreclosures in MA and RI, played a key role in strengthening an anti-foreclosure bill passed by the State Senate last week.
In the final days leading up to the vote, NEW ROAD pushed for the Senate to strengthen what members of the network called an extremely weak bill. The group held a press conference and rally outside the Democratic State Convention in Springfield on Saturday morning. Beginning the day before the Senate voted on the measure, NEW ROAD maintained a constant presence in front of the State House, including an overnight encampment on the building’s front steps. NEW ROAD worked closely with the Mass. Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL).
“The original bill was weak and would not have made a significant difference on the ground,” said Isaac Simon Hodes of NEW ROAD member group Lynn United for Change. “But our Senators showed they can stand up to Wall St. and the big banks. With the changes made yesterday, the Senate has now moved forward on one out of the two pieces that would make our state a model for the whole country in fighting the foreclosure crisis.”
Watch the NEW ROAD Press Conference at Massachusetts Democratic State Convention:
Homeowners directly impacted by foreclosure, many of whom had never been to the State House before, packed the gallery and competed with bank lobbyists for the attention of Senators in the halls outside the Senate chambers. Demonstrators outside the State House and homeowners inside exhorted Senators to “stand with the people, not the big banks,” and enact two amendments to Senate Bill 2287: Mandatory Mediation (filed by Senators Karen Spilka, D-Ashland and Harriet Chandler, D-Worcester), and Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies (filed by Senator Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton).
Senators voted 31-3 in favor of a statewide Mandatory Mediation program. Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies was sent to a working committee.
Watch the NEW ROAD alliance demonstrate the need for stronger foreclosure legislation:
“The Senators heard our message,” said Samira Bouchahda, a Lynn homeowner who is now facing foreclosure herself. Bouchahda participated in the protest in front of the State House and then stayed in the gallery through the vote. “The vote gave me back a little hope that our officials can stand with us against the big banks.”
Eliza Parad, community organizer from the Chelsea Collaborative noted that, “We didn’t get everything we came for, but a statewide mediation program is a huge victory. At the same time, we know that we must continue to fight every unfair foreclosure and eviction in the streets and in the courts. We will keep working to get Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies included in the final bill in order to support families facing unjust evictions by banks.”
Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies is similar to the Just Cause law passed for tenants in August 2010. With this amendment, foreclosed families would have the right to remain in their homes and pay rent to the foreclosing bank until a new buyer purchased the property. The amendment will not only help the individual homeowners, but also stabilize neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by foreclosure by keeping homes occupied.
Muwah Kebei stood outside his Lynn home the day after vote, preparing to face a foreclosure auction together with supporters from NEW ROAD member organization Lynn United for Change. Kebei took part in the protest at the State House Tuesday, and was glad to hear of the Senate’s vote.
Referring to the mandatory mediation provision of the bill, Kebei noted, “If I had the opportunity to sit down with the bank to negotiate in person, I think it probably would have prevented this [foreclosure] from happening.”
Kebei noted that he will likely face eviction after the foreclosure, despite his willingness to pay rent and his intention to offer to re-purchase the home from the bank. Kebei urged passage of the Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies amendment, explaining that its benefits extend beyond preventing unnecessary displacement of foreclosed families. “Having so many empty homes is bad for the entire neighborhood,” he noted. “It makes the area dangerous.”
Alongside a continued push for Preventing Unnecessary Vacancies, NEW ROAD will work to ensure that the mandatory mediation provision passed by the Senate actually becomes law. The foreclosure bill passed by the House does not include mandatory mediation; NEW ROAD will join homeowners, community groups, and labor unions in pushing the House-Senate Conference Committee that will take up the legislation to include this crucial provision.
NEW ROAD (New England Workers and Residents Organizing Against Displacement) is comprised of 8 sites in New England that work with homeowners and tenants in foreclosure. Members organizations include: City Life/Vida Urbana Bank Tenants Association, Northside Bank Tenants Association in East Boston, Chelsea Collaborative Citywide Tenants Association, Lynn United for Change, Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude, Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team (WAFT), Brockton Bank Tenants Association, and Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE in Providence, RI).