They help tenants who are facing foreclosure
For two hours one night last week, a red Zipcar crisscrossed Dorchester, heading through Uphams Corner, Codman Square, and Fields Corner on what has become a regular mission: fighting the foreclosures plaguing the state.
Two volunteers, part of over two dozen teams working that night for City Life/Vida Urbana, a group of tenant activists, were attempting to hit house after house, letting tenants know that they are in danger of getting foreclosed on and urging them to join City Life. The addresses come from a list of impending foreclosures provided by City Life organizers, culled from banking newspapers and public documents.
"For me, it comes down to a matter of what's just," said Brian Brotman, 22, who in his day job is a community organizer with Health Care For All, an advocacy group involved in the implementation of the new state health care law. Kicking people out of their homes "goes against how our society should be run," he said.
It was his second time out. The other volunteer, 27-year-old Daria Ovide, a program coordinator with the non-profit Trust for Public Land, was on her third trip. Both got involved through the Moishe/Kavod House in Brookline, a Jewish cooperative with a "social justice" focus.
At their first stop of the night, the Payson Avenue house was empty, leading them to slip their flyer in the door: "ATTENTION TENANT! Records show that your building/condo is being foreclosed by DEUTSCHE BANK," it read, adding in bold, italicized lettering, "Don't move. Know your rights."
Organizers are hoping to bring pressure to bear on the bank, targeting it because they say it is one of the largest holders of foreclosed property in Boston.
John Gallagher said Deutsche Bank does not control the foreclosure process. They are a trustee, and merely hold securitization trusts and sometimes mortgage documents for mortgage servicing companies. They forwarded the names and contact information of their clients to Mayor Thomas Menino's office and City Life and recently sent a letter to the servicing companies they work with, asking them to consider all the options before evicting tenants.
City Life's organizers hit at those claims, too, saying tenants and others should not have to go through the additional, aggravating layers of the servicing companies.
"Honestly, it's less human," Ovide said.
The duo's next stop: a three-decker on Capen Street, where they ran into an owner who was in the middle of an initial foreclosure process, but rebuffed them from speaking with his tenants. He had enough problems with them, he said, and he didn't need them organizing.
The two attempted to hand him a few of the flyers, in the hopes that he may redistribute them.
"Is that your phone number?" the landlord hopefully asked Ovide, before she gently told him that it's the main number for City Life.
The rest of the night brings more of the same: another vacant house and one person caught leaving the driveway after Ovide and Brotman stood at the front door, knocking for several minutes.
"It's about average, I'd say," Ovide notes at the end of the night.
But the flyers appear to be having the intended effect. Rafael Matos, who lives on Brook Avenue in Dorchester, found one of the flyers on his doorstep in July, the same month his electricity got shut off, causing him to lose his groceries and two pet fish.
His landlord is going through the foreclosure process, and the bank had sent a letter to evict him, he said.
"They want to kick me out like some kind of homeless [person]," said Matos, 47, noting that he has lived there for four-and-a-half years, always paying rent on time. "I don't think it's fair they're going to throw me out just like that."
He heads to Boston Housing Court for the third time later this month, this time for a trial. His lawyer says the bank may want to settle, but Matos has been convinced to hold firm and demand that the place be sold to a non-profit, one of the goals of City Life.
Matos joins in on City Life's protests, and came earlier this week to the organization's tenant organizing committee at City Life's offices in Jamaica Plain.
On the door a sign says, "Stop the War," coupled with "Money for Section 8 Housing," also known as low-income housing. On the wall hangs a leftover banner from a recent Boston City Council protest, reading, "COUNCIL VOTES FOR CORPORATE GREED," and on the opposite wall, a list of the five city councilors who voted for and a list of eight councilors who voted against a Sam Yoon-sponsored petition ordering landlords to meet with tenants twice a year. Giant Post-It notes pepper the wall, including ones listing those who will join in on a potential eviction blockade and union rallies.
"You're our army," City Life tenant organizer Steve Meacham told the crowd of over three-dozen activists, including Matos. "We're fighting a lot of battles."
He adds: "If we can beat Deutsche Bank, we can send a message that you'd better not mess with us."
The group also included an owner who says he's the victim of predatory lending. Ras Tzaddik of Dyer Street refinanced his mortgage, expecting it to get cut in half to $2,000 after six months. But the mortgage was sold to another company and the cut never happened, he said. He was foreclosed on in February, he said.
"I find myself in a position where I've got nowhere to go," he said. "I am at my wit's end."