Early on the evening of Sat., March 31, some three dozen community activists, students, lawyers, and concerned neighbors gathered on quiet Elmont Street in Dorchester to protest Wells Fargo’s decision to sell a family’s home to a developer rather than to local organizations intent on keeping the family in the home they have occupied since 2001.
Activists from local tenants’ rights and anti-displacement group City Life/ Vita Urbana and a student spokesperson from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau team representing the Masons, an African-American family of six, including two children, denounced Wells Fargo for the impending auction of their home.
Rally leader Antonio Ennis began by condemning Wells Fargo for its plans to sell the property to speculators despite multiple offers from community nonprofits to buy the house and let the family stay.
Family member Lavern Bridges-Daley said that the family, with the help of local community development nonprofit Boston Community Capital, made an offer to Wells Fargo this past February that was rejected. “We’ve been here for such a long time,” she said. “We know all the neighbors. We don’t want everything to change because at one point we didn’t have everything in order.” Daley added that the family originally fell behind in their mortgage when medical issues befell the family’s primary earner. “We just want to pay the mortgage and stay in our home,” she said.
According to a statement read at the rally by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau student spokesperson Denise Ghartey, Wells Fargo is planning to auction the Mason family’s home in May despite a federal judge ruling in 2012 that Wells Fargo could not legally foreclose on the Masons, and despite a later agreement struck between Daley, officials at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Wells Fargo, and representatives from non-profit organization Coalition for Occupied Homes In Foreclosure that would permit the Masons to repurchase their home.
Since the rally, Wells Fargo has assigned a new staff member to the Masons’ case, raising hopes by some that the bank may be open to selling the house to Boston Community Capital after all, although nothing has been finalized.
Steve Meacham, coordinator of organizing for City Life/ Vita Urbana, connected Wells Fargo’s attempting to evict the Mason family to the $185 million that Wells Fargo was recently forced to pay as part of a 2016 settlement after the company fraudulently opened lines of credit for unsuspecting customers, and to the $25 billion the bank was forced to pay to homeowners after the 2008 recession.
He used the occasions to call for the passage of the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, which passed the Boston City Council earlier this week and is currently heading to the Legislature for a vote. The bill would require property owners to notify the city of Boston before they evict a tenant, require the city to notify tenants facing eviction of their rights, and, most controversially, end so-called no-fault evictions after a bank foreclosure. “The Masons’ struggle is a perfect example of why we need the Jim Brooks Act,” said Meacham.
As the rally wound down, Ennis led the crowd in one final chant: “Whose homes?” Ennis shouted into his megaphone. “Our homes!” the crowd yelled back. “What do we do when our homes are attacked?” “Stand up, fight back!”