As Catherine Lennon spoke with members of the press about moving back into her foreclosed home on Monday morning, her supportive neighbors said foreclosure actions, uncooperative lenders and robo-signers are destroying their neighborhood in the city’s Southwest Quadrant.
A group of concerned volunteers say an unscrupulous foreclosure process isn’t just happening here, it’s happening across the country.
Lennon was evicted from her home on Ravenwood Avenue in March, but returned yesterday with the support of her neighbors and an organization called Take Back the Land, or TBL.
“There are thousands of vacant homes in the city of Rochester and it does nobody any good to evict families like Catherine’s,” said TBL’s Ryan Acuff.
“We will be here as long as she wants us to be,” said Rob Robinson, one of the founding members of TBL nationwide. “We’ll provide her with training on eviction defense and civil disobedience.”
Lennon and the Rochester chapter of TBL said she has tried to negotiate with Fannie Mae but has been stonewalled and presented with an unacceptable offer to buy the home for $50,000. Lennon purchased it for $30,000 in 2006.
Robinson said this is the first time TBL has supported a previously evicted homeowner to return to their home without legal authority in Rochester, but that it has worked in cities like Miami.
“We have done it before,” Robinson explained. “We have to do it to fix the policy that allowed her to be evicted. This house is more than just rooms, it’s a piece of community.”
“We’re calling on people to stand up to the banks and not move out,” Acuff said. “This is part of a larger movement across the country.”
“When a house goes down, the neighborhood goes down,” said TBL representative, Katherine Denison.
Lennon is represented by a New York City-based attorney, but the attorney was not present at the TBL press conference. TBL said they have some legal support, but would like to receive greater volunteer legal assistance.
According to Denison, Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have offered assistance, but the home is still in foreclosure.
“One stated purpose of the government bailout was to help institutions like Fannie Mae to keep families in their homes,” Denison said.
Lennon said Fannie Mae lost important documentation in her case, and she believes she was a victim of robo-signing in which inaccurate, non-verified documents are signed by attorneys in foreclosure cases. Lennon and TBL members are incredulous that Fannie Mae is now asking for an additional $8.5 billion in federal aid when their response to someone like Lennon has been unacceptable.
“We believe it is immoral for Fannie Mae to leave another home vacant in our community,” Acuff said.
Lennon moved into the house on Sunday, and the home currently has no utilities. She bought the home, which neighbors and TBL members say used to be a crack house, with her husband, who has since passed away.
Currently, no one is paying on the home and no police officers or Fannie Mae representatives attended the Monday press conference.
“I slept like a baby,” she said of her first night back. “Let them come and do what they have to do. Maybe that’ll help get the message out.”