On January 16, 2013, just after 5 a.m., 12 sheriff’s deputies and 10 Portland police officers forcefully evicted the original Portland foreclosure fighters – Debbie and Ron Austin – from their NE Portland home. The eviction was at the demand of the government sponsored and funded mortgage finance vehicle, Fannie Mae.
The family was evicted, but their home is not empty. A force of armed private security guards from McRoberts Security was immediately installed in Debbie Austin’s home. The guards have been on 24-hour duty in the home ever since.
Typical cost for private security indicates that Fannie Mae is spending $480-$600 a day, or $15,000 a month on 24-hour armed guards. Since the Austins’ January eviction, Fannie Mae has spent nearly $50,000 of essentially public money to keep one home empty.
“It was horrifying. I was standing on the sidewalk at 6 a.m. in my pajamas watching the sheriff change the locks and seeing armed security forces enter my home,” said Debbie Austin. “Fannie Mae is a publicly owned company and this is how they treat me and my family? My husband is a veteran; my daughter is in college, and we have lived here for 27 years. No one deserves to be treated like this!”
The Austins came out as the first family in Oregon publicly fighting their eviction in December 2011. In the years before, both Debbie and her husband Ron were diagnosed with cancer and slipped into foreclosure. During foreclosure, the family tried to get refinancing or modification and was financially able to make payments, but the bank continued with the foreclosure proceedings. The Austins tried to fight for their home in court, but, like many contesting foreclosure, they could not afford a lawyer and were unable to compete with the Fannie Mae’s local legal team.
If Fannie Mae truly cared about keeping families in their homes, as they say they do, they would work with families to find solutions. If Fannie Mae spends about $15,000 a month to guard one home, they may be spending millions on such security around the country. Instead of working with homeowners to negotiate a rental situation, or a refinancing modification, they are paying for an armed force to keep these homes empty.
Along with Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae finances about two-thirds of the mortgages in the U.S. and was involved in the national housing collapse. The New York Times reported in 2011, “Fannie and Freddie, created to increase the availability of mortgage loans, misused the government’s support to enrich shareholders and executives by backing millions of shoddy loans. Taxpayers so far have spent more than $135 billion on the cleanup.”
Community members who support the Austins are organizing to get them back in their home, going so far as to hold a sit-in at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office and winning a path toward an eviction moratorium in Portland. Fannie Mae has no office in Oregon or the Northwest, and the attorney responsible for filing the Austins’ eviction paperwork on behalf of Fannie Mae claims to have no power to negotiate with homeowners, leaving no known company representative in the region where the Austins live.
Of all the banks foreclosing on homes, Fannie Mae is in the best position to simply stop foreclosing and work with homeowners to renegotiate their mortgages. There is a national effort through the Home Defenders Network for Fannie Mae to immediately reinstate the Austins into their home, work with the family to return them to their home permanently, and replicate that model with families all around the country. Fannie Mae could be setting a national example of getting families back in their homes with minimal harm; instead they are preying on working people and acting like the big wholly private banks. In the end, foreclosure and eviction are bigger than one family. It is time to put a moratorium on evictions, while the Attorney General investigates the big banks for fraud and irregularity.
The Austins are part of We Are Oregon, a community-based effort in Portland to fight against foreclosures and evictions. WAO is working with more than a dozen families to defend their homes, six of whom are publicly resisting standing orders by order of a court, the city or the sheriff to leave their homes.
(Kari Koch works with We Are Oregon, a community-based, union-funded group that organizes with working people for justice. Her post first appeared on Truthout and is republished with permission.)