No more foreclosures: Rochester's housing movement hits the streets

No Eviction, No Foreclosure!

On October 16th, Metro Justice, Take Back the Land Rochester, and other community partners came together for a rally and march under the idea that housing is a human right.

“With all of these empty houses and all of these homeless people we don’t have a housing problem, we have a priorities problem,” declared Maggie Spallina, a member of Rochester Red & Black, through the amplified blare of the megaphone. As more than three hundred people gathered in Washington Square Park for the Housing as a Human Rights march we began by talking about the crisis that has hit the nation and our city as a whole. “How did we become the city with the seventh highest child poverty in the country? How did we end up with all our neighbors out of work? And why do we keep allowing this to happen to each other?”

The Metro Justice Housing Committee was formed to further the concept of Housing as a Human Right in Rochester, premised on the idea that since shelter is a need then housing should be safe and affordable for everyone. Specifically it has begun to target the rampant rates of foreclosure that are blowing through our neighborhoods, leaving families without places to call home. In an effort to ward off the systemic levels of fraud we are calling on the city to enact a moratorium on police execution of home foreclosure based evictions, which would stop the city from allowing our police force to physically remove people from their homes. This resolution has been put before our city council, yet there has been pushback from some members while complete disinterest from others.

As this formed within Metro Justice, a member supported non-profit that has existed in Rochester for almost 40 years, it always had determined a course that would support the direct action of groups like Take Back the Land. By uniting on the critical issues, Metro Justice could feasibly put public and political pressure to then assist the direct foreclosure resistance that the community was already engaging with. The effort is to create a more public movement and create strategies why by more groups could be integrated.

On October 16th we banded together in a large coalition of groups to march to City Hall, which included partners like Take Back the Land Rochester, Rochester Red and Black, SEIU Local 200 United, Band of Rebels, and Students for a Democratic Society.

We began in the park with speakers like Maggie Spallina and Hubert Wilkerson, talking about the dire comparison between the growing numbers of both empty houses and homeless people on our city’s streets. From there the movement went down the streets, bannering under chants like “Hey, We’re Taking Over! No Evictions, No Foreclosure,” before rallying in front of City Hall to make the voices of the people heard.

A number of speakers began to relate the housing crisis, and the issues of class and racial inequality that are seen when talking about homelessness, to their own lives and struggles. Cathy Lennon, who successfully defended her house from a fraudulent foreclosure last year, broke down what it meant to stay in your own home. “I am one of the ones that the police took and drug me out of my home,” she said to a chanting crowd. “They were saying something about a shelter. We aren’t animals, we don’t need a shelter! We don’t need a shelter! We are human beings! Like Martin Luther King said, ”I have a dream!” I have a dream too! I have a dream that one day, real soon, we are coming together, and we will not be humiliated anymore! We will have our homes!”

After a long battle with cancer, Cathy’s husband passed away without a will. Since she did not have legal standing on the property, Bank of America refused to deal with her and eventually issued an eviction from a difficult foreclosure. She initiated a blockade on her home with the help of Take Back the Land Rochester and successfully defended it for a couple of weeks before an army of police finally rolled through, handcuffs ready. Shortly after she moved back into her home with the help of the local community, and she has been there since. Recently the bank finally accepted negotiations and will allow her to keep her home permanently, but only after consistent community pressure.

As the rally ended the march moved inside, packing the Speak to Council session that is available for community members to issue thoughts and complaints. The myriad of voices reflected the diverse issues involved with housing, and almost every speaker that nigh brought focused in on this topic. As each speaker finished the crowed exploded in support, completely ignoring the rules set forth by the council. Instead, in a showing of movement community, each speaker was respected as fists were raised by those in the crowd to indicate that they would let another speak. Hubert Wilkerson took the podium and opened up about the direct action that Take Back the Land has, and will be doing, to put homeless families into empty homes. “We are going to take over some city property. I’m not going to ask you. I’m telling you. We have been challenging the banks, Wells Fargo, Bank of America. You have 3,000 abandoned properties in this city.”

After the final speaker a women from the crowd rose up and openly challenged the City Council people to look her son in the eye and explain to him why he was not able to have a decent place to live. The women had faced some recent issues with eviction and could not currently secure a permanent place for her family. Cathy Lennon also crossed over the security parameters to embrace Councilwoman Elaine Spaull, who was openly moved to tears by the mix of passion and anger that the crowd had.

This event marked an ever-growing housing movement in this country, and Rochester specifically. Join us on November 3rd for our Housing Summit, which will bring together community groups to talk about how we can organize to challenge the issues around foreclosure and homelessness! The effort of this is not simply to create a public policy that will address these militant banks, but create a real movement that attempts to challenge the forces of state supported capitalism that have propped up this inequality. With this we call for a mass movement that will focus on solidarity and community, where we can finally move from housing as a commodity to community control over land.

The Metro Justice Housing Committee is also standing with a campaign to force the City of Rochester to divest all public funds from JP Morgan Chase, where a sizable portion of the budget currently sits. This is part of both a state and national effort to target Chase Bank as their record shows that they are one of the worst to deal with when times become hard in a household. More recently Hempstead, Binghamton, and Buffalo, NY, all moved money out of Chase, giving a public statement that when a movement is strong then they can determine how their community operates.

Shane Burley

Posted By

Eviction Free Zone
Oct 23 2012 04:27


Attached files


Oct 24 2012 19:11

Cheers. This sounds like a great action.

I'm curious what folks think of Community Land Trusts? That's where land/homes are taken off the market and 'owned' by a nonprofit trust. The family living there pays a much lower amount monthly and they can live there indefinitely. If they resell it, there are provisions which keep it affordable but let the seller recoup something of what they put in.

Obviously, this is a partial solution to providing full communist housing. One problem is that someone has to put up the initial capital to buy the property/houses and/or build new homes. There is a land trust in my city which turned a polluted 27-acre sawmill into a pretty nice neighborhood. In that case, the city bought the land outright and the nonprofit served as the developer. In these hard times, I'm not sure the city would do it again.

It does seem like a good demand for housing groups like the one in the article. Kind of a follow-up step to a foreclosure moratorium and the Chase divestment.

Oct 24 2012 20:29

That picture is brilliant grin

"Why do we need placards, when we can just use solid metal shields instead?" black bloc

Fairplay on what looks like a great rally, nice one.

Oct 25 2012 01:57

Nice red & black's.

"I'm curious what folks think of Community Land Trusts?" syndicalistcat has working experiance with this. I'll email 'em.

Eviction Free Zone
Oct 25 2012 04:34

I am really glad to hear the land trust question. In Take Back the Land that is the protective model we have taken as a place to hold land, though it has not been successfully utilized yet. The idea here is that the land trust would be an entity that could hold the land and when a home is being blockaded the land trust is an option to offer up to the bank, so they get the tax write off for the value of the home.

The big thing that I think is important about the land trust model is that it is not revolutionary, or even progressive, on its own. It is only a tool that is used along with direct action and a public mass movement, otherwise it could easily be just as a corrupt model.

I would also be very interested in hearing from anyone that does have a community land trust experience as this is a new organizing model locally and any feedback would be wonderful.

Oct 25 2012 21:31

we formed a community land trust in San Francisco to do coop conversions of existing buildings, as an anti-gentrification tactic. Started as an organizing committee of about 12 people in 2001. Did many presentations to community groups and such to gain support. Eventually we were brought in to a tenant fight in Chinatown, where the residents had been refusing to leave for seven years, fighting a proposal to demolish their building. Thru their community support they defeated the public entity that had bought the building and it was sold to the land trust. Took about six years to complete the coop conversion. Was very difficult for a variety of reasons. The tenants are working class Chinese immigrants, who mostly don't know much English. Organizing thru translation is very hard, due to potential misunderstandings. Also, the tenants had divisions between the five or six households who were the hard core and others. The building was mixed use, and the nonprofit lawyer (a famous Asian-American civil rights group) wanted to use the groundfloor, which had been a garment factory, for their offices. So that made the deal very complicated. The building is a two unit condo with the coop existing as one of the condos. At that time (2005) there was still a socialist on the city council who sponsored a measure that created a new coop conversion fund that gave us $1 million. Now the city is broke and it would be unfeasible to do that. The biggest part of the financing was $3.8 million for seismic reinforcement (it was a brick building), which comes from a federal block grant. We negotiated a deal with the tenants where each household would come up with $10,000 for their Limited Equity Coop shares. Actually the city was willing to provide a loan for this, which they might not even have to pay back. The woman frrom the city's housing department who arranged that was an ex-organizer for SEIU.

The CLT is run day to day by an elected member committee, elected at an annual assembly. It's structured so that after it has a certain number of units half the delegates are elected by the residents. The problem is, we've had a hard time getting ongoing active participation by the residents. Once they have their housing, they're not as interested, it seems. The CLT currently has two other projects it is doing. These are large Victorian houses with many bedrooms that are run as collective houses. So here the idea is to turn the building into a collectively owned house. Both houses have a multi-racial mix of residents. Our anarchist lawyer has created bylaws for what he calls a Resident Owned Nonprofit to own and manage the house. CLT would own the land and have certain responsibilities. The socialist formerly on the city council also negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement for a particular working class area he represented, which has had thousands of new, high-end apartments built there. The condo developers wanted permissions so they agreed to fork over money to a fund. The board that oversees this fund, which includes the head of the city's labor council, likes the CLT and wants us to do a project in that neighborhood. so that's a funding source outside city control.

There is fundamentally a real problem of very inadequate financial support for any form of social housing in the USA. so this greatly limits what can be done. Because we use the coop model, it provides an element of self-management, and it maintains permanent affordability on the housing, due to all the restrictions on raising the payments. In that sense it's an anti-market reform. When I was doing presentations to working class audiences, people always liked the anti-market aspect of the plan. It's also outside the state so it's more insulated from what happens when a more conservative group of politicians get in (as what happened to council housing under Thatcher). I think what could realistically be done depends on the kind of resources, being able to get the land, and this depends on the level of social struggle. In our case we were able to get some initial funding because there had been a tenant uprising in the city circa 2000 and elected a left, pro-tenant majority to city council, and we had that group of hard core tenants who wouldn't move and were insistent on owning their building.

the CLT has two half-time paid positions, an organizer and the Organizational Director. the OD is a dyed in the wool socialist woman who had been a member before we hired her. She's not an "Executive Director" because she shares control with the very hands-on volunteer member committee. But we had to be able to point to "someone who's in charge" for the city and funders. so our CLT is a bit more grassroots than many American 501c3 nonprofits.

I should explain what I mean when I say we have an "anti-market" program. When someone buys an apartment for $10,000 in the coop, if they eventually leave and sell their share, they can't sell it on the open market. They merely get back the $10,000 they put in times inflation over the period since they bought it. So they only get back the current value of the money they originally put in. No profit. With the Residen-Owned Nonprofit houses, this is even more obvious since these are zero-equity coops. No one buys any share. So the idea is to keep the effective price of the housing to the resident as low as possible, and not allow anyone to make any speculative profit. This means our program is actually more extreme in its anti-profit policy than the typical American CLT.

maybe i should explain how we arrive at a price for a coop apartment. basically it is negotiated with the tenants, based on what we need to make the project work financially and what they are willing to do. for example, i organized a 13 unit building in the Mission District, with multi-racial (black and white) working class residents. This consisted of 12 large studios and a two-bedroom cottage in the backyard. Because their average incomes were slightly higher than the Chinese building, I was able to negotiate a deal where the people in the studios would pay $15,000 for their share, and the couple living in the cottage would pay $25,000 (since they were getting a standalone house). These payments would add up to $205,000. The building was selling for about $1+ million. And I had lined up two nonprofit lenders who would provide 80 percent financing. Unfortunately this project fell thru due to the utter hostility of the landlady who refused to negotiate with us and sold the building to a local speculator/petty landlord.

Eviction Free Zone
Oct 29 2012 05:39

This is a promo video we made for the march to let people know about the issue.

Oct 29 2012 17:35
sxb1831 wrote:
The big thing that I think is important about the land trust model is that it is not revolutionary, or even progressive, on its own.

And the situation in San Francisco that syndicalistcat describes (eg. the socialist city councilor, history of housing struggle, etc.) sounds like something many communities the rest of the country probably don't have. Not to discount the amount of organizing done there, but it sounds like a unique climate. I know the CLT in Albuquerque relied pretty heavily on a close relationship to a City Councilor, though the organization originally came out of a community-led fight against blight. Unfortunately, their model for holding and acquiring land seems to have turned them into a developer, rather than a self-managed housing co-op.

It is only a tool that is used along with direct action and a public mass movement, otherwise it could easily be just as a corrupt model.

Nice point.

Eviction Free Zone
Oct 29 2012 17:41

For those interested, there is a follow up event to this. In an effort to continue growing the movement, and to invest in new ideas, we are having a housing summit in Rochester, this Saturday!!!

Eviction Free Zone
Nov 14 2012 20:38

Here is a video from the march:

Eviction Free Zone
Nov 14 2012 20:38

Here is a video from the march: