Eviction crisis will persist, say advocates

Last Friday, Soledad Lawrence was chained to the front of a condominium at 76 Perrin St in Roxbury, trying to keep Paula Taylor from being evicted. Lawrence, a tenant organizer for City Life, a Jamaica Plain non-profit that has been working to prevent evictions and foreclosures in Boston, intended to be arrested that morning.

"We always go in prepared to be arrested," she said in a phone interview this week.

Friday wasn't her day. She wasn't arrested, but four others were.

That eviction was a local iteration of the national mortgage crisis that continues to run its course. In Massachusetts, as in every state, borrowers are finding themselves unable to meet their mortgage payments. Many are defaulting on their loans and being foreclosed upon.

In response to the crisis, the Massachusetts' Legislature passed a 90-day delay on foreclosures intended to give borrowers more breathing room. That initial 90-day delay ended Aug. 1.

The blockade of 76 Perrin St. was the eighth eviction defense carried out by City Life, and the first that ended with arrests. Organizers with City Life attribute a recent uptick in evictions to the lapse of the moratorium.

"Since the first, it's like the flood gates were open," Lawrence said.

City Life organizers say they expect future eviction blockades to result in arrests as lenders become less willing to negotiate with - and more willing to pressure - borrowers. They spent this Tuesday preparing for that eventuality.

This week, the group planned to block the eviction of a Mattapan family on Duke Street. Their plans were called off at midday Tuesday when the judge handling the case ordered the lender, EMC Mortgage Company, to give the family until Sept. 22 to negotiate a compromise.

During that time they can offer to purchase the property at a price acceptable to the lender or move out of their own volition. If neither happens they could be evicted. The lender could also choose to rent to the family, an option the family's lawyer said they have been reluctant to consider. Lawyers for EMC Mortgage declined comment for this story.

"They won last Friday," Patty Whiting, an attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau that represented both Taylor and the Mattapan family, said. "They went ahead with eviction and the sky didn't fall. They've learned: 'We can do this.'"

"There are gonna be more of these, it's gonna get worse," Whiting said.

If the evictions that Whiting prophesies come to pass, City Life intends to be a part of the process as always. "I suspect that their tactic is to flood us with evictions so we won't be able to keep up," Lawrence said. It's not a tactic that concerns her or other City Life organizers.

"I don't know what they're thinking," Steve Meacham, Tenant Organizing Coordinator at City Life said. "We can keep this up."

City Life also plans to increase pressure on lenders by picketing their offices in advance of evictions. According to the group at least one other Dorchester family will face eviction within the next month.