Protesters send digitized memo to bank
For two years, Presley Obasohan says he has begged Bank of America to modify a mortgage on a home he bought in Dorchester at the height of the housing bubble. Every time, he has been denied. “They are not listening to me,’’ said Obasohan, 55.
Friday night, a group of more than 75 protesters could not ignore Obasohan’s plea. A recording of his voice reading his letter to Bank of America boomed over a pair of speakers in Copley Square. His words were digitized and projected on two floors of a Bank of America building on the corner of St. James and Berkeley streets in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
That meant a lot to Obasohan, who said he recently received a letter from the bank telling him it intended to foreclose on his home, which he bought for $450,000 but was recently appraised for just $230,000.
“I think it will send a message,’’ he said. “We want to put pressure on the big banks.’’
City Life/Vida Urbana, a Boston-based advocacy group, has been protesting foreclosures throughout the economic crisis, but Friday’s rally in downtown Boston came with a twist. Enlisting the help of volunteer John Hulsey, a Harvard University graduate film student, the organization took their message to the bank. They digitized the words of a handful of homeowners who have either have been foreclosed on or are facing the threat of losing their homes and projected those messages onto the Bank of America building.
Later, the group gathered at Dewey Square outside another Bank of America building. But before a projection van could arrive, police pulled it over. The projections were done for the night. The protest chants continued.
Not all of the frustrated homeowners were Bank of America customers, but the protest was meant to foreshadow the bank’s shareholders meeting next week in Charlotte, N.C.
“Housing is a human right,’’ said Hulsey, 30. “It’s not a political issue; it’s basic survival. I feel a responsibility to defend the right side of this, to stand with people fighting to stay in their homes.’’
The action began around 8:45 p.m. Working out of a white Ford van with New York plates and an Occupy Boston sticker on the inside, Hulsey worked a projector on the roof and a pair of Behringer speakers on the sidewalk.
Protesters held candles as the stories played. After the projections were done, they formed a picket line and sang songs and chanted slogans against banks.
James Reardon, a Dorchester man, came to offer his support. He inherited his home in 1982 but, over the years, borrowed money against it through a mortgage company to fund the Boston Dance Company. “No credit checks, no nothing,’’ he said. “They just gave me what I asked for three times.’’
Now, Reardon owes $430,000 on the house. He has asked for a loan modification, but Bank of America has refused, he says.
Even with the slow economic recovery, banks continue to foreclose on properties across the country and the state. In February, the most recent month reported, foreclosure starts statewide rose from 694 to 1,394, according to the Warren Group, which tracks real estate trends.
T.J. Crawford, a Bank of American spokesman, had no comment on City Life/Vita Urbana’s protest, but said that the company has modified more than 1 million mortgages since 2008, including 22,000 in Massachusetts. “I’d also stress that foreclosure is always our last resort,’’ said Crawford.
While Friday’s action targeted Bank of America, Hulsey stressed that the issue is wider. It is about a system, he said, that refuses to change and continues to try to put hard-working people out onto the street.
City Life/Vita Urbana has regularly urged people with foreclosed properties to stay in their homes. The organization then pressures banks to negotiate ways for those people to buy back their homes or at least rent them.
That is what happened to Raimundo Fernandes, 52, a divorced father of five who took part in Friday night’s protest. In 1978, his parents bought a home on Clarence Street in Roxbury. When they died, they left it to Fernandes and his seven siblings. He bought them out, taking out a loan. But in recent years, he began to struggle.
In 2011, Deutsche Bank foreclosed on his property. He took City Life’s advice and refused to leave. Now he is paying $1,100 a month in rent and trying to buy his home back. His story, written by one of his daughters, was one of the five projected on the Bank of America building Friday.
“It meant so much to me,’’ he said. “To say how I felt and what the bank did to me. I don’t read very well and write very well, and that was one of my problems.’’
Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.