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Foreclosed homes, empty lots are next 'Occupy' targets

Rachel Maddow reports on an offshoot of the Occupy movement dedicated to defending struggling Americans for foreclosure and eviction.

‘Occupy’ protesters and housing rights activists are planning to help families resist eviction from foreclosed homes and take control of  vacant properties in some 25 U.S. cities on Tuesday,  an effort aimed at focusing attention on the ongoing housing crisis and giving the movement a new focus after the dismantling of many of its encampments.

The protesters have been crafting proposals – often quietly to prevent police from learning about their intentions beforehand -- to defend families facing eviction or return others home. In Minneapolis, for example, they plan to help a Vietnam War veteran stay in his home, in New York, protesters will try to help a family get back into their house, and in Chicago, two sisters and their seven children will be moved into an abandoned single-family home, activists said.

"It’s part of a national day of action that we hope will kick off a wave of defenses and home re-occupations,” Max Berger, 26, told the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly late Thursday while requesting $6,400 in funding to buy tools for the project. "This is not just about one event; this is a huge frontier for us. We can do these kinds of actions all the time, and we should. And it doesn’t have to be just us. We got to do this one right so we can inspire people to do it theirselves.”

‘Occupy’ protesters already have been squatting in vacant houses in cities like New York, Seattle, Portland, Oakland and London, where protesters have taken over an abandoned office block bought by UBS several years ago and dubbed it the "Bank of Ideas." They also have made scattered efforts – some of them successful -- to help families facing eviction defend their homes, including in California and Minneapolis.   

One of those efforts is “Occupy 477,” where protesters joined families facing eviction from a West Harlem building and restored heat and water to the building, activists said.

Housing rights groups and ‘Occupy’ encampments have long been in talks about a national day of action, with regular conference calls involving dozens of activists, said Rob Robinson of Take Back the Land, a national network of organizations focused on housing rights and securing community control over land.

"As part of the 99 percent, we feel like corporations, big banks, are what's holding us back, what’s keeping us impoverished. This is folks' way of fighting back against those institutions," Robinson said.

Banks are expected to repossess some 800,000 homes this year, down from more than 1 million last year, said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio. But the number of U.S. homes that received a first-time default notice during the July to September quarter increased 14 percent compared to the second quarter of the year, according to the firm.

Massachusetts AG sues five banks over foreclosures

The increase is a sign that banks are now moving more aggressively against borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments following industrywide foreclosure processing problems that emerged last fall. Those problems resulted in a sharp drop in foreclosure activity early this year.

The "ultimate message" of the anti-foreclosure protests is "bank reform," said Anthony Newby, a community organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in Minneapolis.

The focus on the housing crisis could also give some new direction to the Occupy movement, which has faced evictions from their camps across the country.

"In some ways, it's a natural progression for lots of reasons for this whole Occupy movement to get away from the plaza and actually start doing things on Main Street ... that are affecting individual people's lives in a very direct way," Newby said.

There also are some practical reasons for more scattered occupations.

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A group of "Occupy" protesters in Minneapolis is looking for an empty building that they can take over for their winter encampment after authorities attemped to evict them from their current headquarters three times in the last 36 hours, said Nick Espinosa, a 25-year-old unemployed social worker and protester.

“We’re really looking right now to take a vacant space that … we could use for an occupation," he said, noting they would be scouting properties later Friday. "Ideally it would be a space where we could do both (help a family keep their home and occupy) to keep the message really sharp about why we're doing this and about homelessness and people who don't have homes as a result of the foreclosure crisis.

"But, you know, at the end of the day, we do need some sort of a space here where we can meet and continue to organize and ... grow and build our community here through the winter." 

At Occupy Wall Street, Berger noted that protesters had been frequently asked when they would begin engaging in politics, to which he said: "We are."

"The great thing about housing is it’s macro and it’s micro," he said. "People don’t understand a thing about proprietary trading … but they know they have a mortgage that they're behind on."

“This movement is about taking back this country for regular people and that’s exactly what we’re doing with these actions," he later added. "We’re not going to let the power of the banks keep people from having what they need."

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