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A way to stop foreclosures

Posted by Binyamin Appelbaum April 17, 2008 09:18 AM

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1201110897_7507.jpgThe most successful foreclosure prevention program in the state of Massachusetts may be the rolling blockade orchestrated by City Life/Vida Urbana. Starting last fall, the Jamaica Plain activist group has undertaken the protection of a growing number of Bostonians living in foreclosed buildings, pledging to physically inhibit any attempted eviction.

With growing regularity, the group has sounded its trumpets, alerting supporters and the media that an eviction is scheduled. People and cameras muster outside the house in the early morning hours. And the eviction is canceled. The mortgage company backs down.

City Life's most recent victory came Tuesday, when city officials announced that Wells Fargo had indefinitely postponed an eviction of tenants from a foreclosed building on Norfolk Street in Dorchester.

Sometimes the cancellation happens the night before, and the blockade becomes a rally. Sometimes it's only clear when no constable comes to carry residents and possessions across the threshold.

What doesn't seem to vary is the result.

It has become increasingly clear that City Life/Vida Urbana -- and probably any other activist group -- effectively can prevent a given eviction simply by announcing that they plan to be in attendance.

It's the rare practical application of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: Evictions apparently don't happen in the presence of spectators.

Take the case of Melonie Griffiths-Evans and Ocwen Financial Corp.

In late January, Ocwen filed to evict Griffiths-Evans from her Dorchester home. City Life mobilized. Protesters, media and politicians descended. Moments before the scheduled time, the eviction was called off.

Ocwen denied that it had yielded. Said there had been a misunderstanding with the constable. Rescheduled the eviction for a few weeks later. And then backed down again.

Meanwhile, the company is reselling 82 other homes in Massachusetts that it successfully claimed from the former owners. I imagine residents were evicted in at least some cases. But it's hard to say for sure. There weren't any spectators.

Photo Credit: George Rizer/Globe Staff: Homeowner Melonie Griffiths-Evans (center at bottom, clapping hands) was surrounded by media and supporters after it was announced that eviction proceedings were postponed.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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