Growing up in East Cleveland, everyone on my block lived in a house that was owned by the family. It was comforting to have a home to grow up in and to have stable neighbors who acted as extended family. I realize now that home ownership contributed to personal investment in the community, which allowed for some quality in my neighborhood that has since become a nostalgic memory. As I’ve grown twenty-one short years I see less and less home ownership in my community and urban communities at large, which parallels with less community and more distrust.
In celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I spent my day with the Anti-Eviction Campaign of Chicago, a human rights organization overturning the high rate of eviction in the city. Tens of volunteers and myself canvassed the South Side community and encouraged families facing foreclosure to stay in their homes. As a first time volunteer, I learned several alarming facts: there are upwards of 80 vacant lots or houses within a walkable mile of the South Side, many victims have been placed in situations due to predatory lending, and tenants and owners are offered $1,000-2,500 settlement to forfeit keys and forego fighting banks against foreclosure.
Throughout the day I met grandmothers caring for multiple children, tenants unaware of the foreclosure situation facing the building owner. and neighbors directing us to a host of others facing eviction in the vicinity. The unifying sentiment was outrage at the insensitivity of the state demonstrated by short-term periods to vacate and unwillingness of the bank to modify mortgages. For some, this was not the first encounter with foreclosure. A personal take away from the experience was the knowledge of what is being done with these reclaimed homes….NOTHING. One neighbor we visited had contacted the sheriff about her foreclosure to be notified that her home was considered a vacant lot, which showed the disregard held for this community. In keeping with the spirit of community, many of those we visited signed on a petition in solidarity against this human rights injunction. However, it gives me great concern to see this as the current state of community ties where rights continue to become luxuries in “America”.