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Buy Back Program Aims To Stop Foreclosures

BY TRONE DOWD
Editor

Although a majority of the country has bounced back significantly since the economic turmoil of the recession in 2008, Council members Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) took to the Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden in Jamaica Tuesday morning to once and for all address an issue so many Southeast Queens residents have come to accept as fact — the foreclosure crisis that never ended for minority communities all over the nation.

10 Zombie BuybackThe City Council trio formally announced the Foreclosure Buyback Program, made specifically to prevent foreclosure, financially assist those in danger of being kicked out of their homes, and extinguish the effects of the “Zombie House” epidemic with the help of non-profits and investments from the city government. A total of $1 million has been allocated last fiscal year and for 2016 fiscal year for this purpose.

“Since 2008 many families around the country, especially in Southeast Queens, have been ravished and devastated by the foreclosure crisis,” Miller said. “Over the last two years there have been 27,000 foreclosures in the city of New York, one-third of which has occurred in Southeast Queens. The impact that has on neighboring homes is obvious as it is as devastating.”

With the Foreclosure Buyback Program, there will now be a concerted effort made by third parties to keep these long lasting issues that have taken money out of the pockets of homeowners, their neighbors and communities from persisting.

“We will now negotiate with the homeowners to try and keep them in their homes and make mortgages manageable,” Miller said. “When they are not there and that is not possible these homes will be restored by some of these local community non-profit groups and given back to the communities as affordable housing.”

Miller said that the value of homes near unkept foreclosed homes can plummet as much as 28 percent, and have rippling “effects on houses blocks away.”

The effort to address this problem stems from a public hearing held at York College just over a year ago. Residents in the community met with elected officials and non-profits to give perspective on their personal experiences facing this crisis. The non-profits included: Housing Preservation and Development, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, Inc., Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Restore Housing Development Fund Corporation, Mutual Housing Association of New York and the Brooklyn Legal Services helping with the legal hurdles homeowners often face. All of these organizations are now participants in the Foreclosure Buyback program. As of Tuesday morning, 24 homes had already been purchased and are a part of the program.

“This may have gone a little slower than most people would have liked,” Wills said. “But it’s because this is an effective initiative that is actually given us results. This will be a pathfinder model for cities across the nation.”

The program is the first of its kind in the country as Wills said. Other cities that have concerns about their housing markets including Seattle, San Francisco and Boston are looking to potentially apply this model spearheaded by Miller, Richards, Wills and Southeast Queens leaders like Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick.

Wills expressed a desire to bring minority services into the fold to “help guard against anything like” the foreclosure crisis “from happening in the future,” as well as showcasing the successes of the program in order to increase the funding from an annual $1 million allocation to billions of dollars in allocation.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation to mandate new “pre-foreclosure duties” requiring banks to maintain abandon homes for as long as they remain vacant or face significant fines.

Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, tdowd@queenspress.com or @theloniusly

Article source: http://queenstribune.com/buy-back-program-aims-stop-foreclosures/

What should be done with former Rolling Acres Mall? Here are 12 ideas



Beacon Journal staff report

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Waste from a remodeling job dumped in the parking lot of Rolling Acres Mall in Akron. Earlier this week, a Columbus financial services and real estate development firm pitched the idea of turning the former Rolling Acres Mall into a massive youth sports complex. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)




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Falon (left) and Ty Gable, work at their family business Acorn Rug Cleaners on Harlem Road near the back entrance of Rolling Acres Mall. The Gable’s arent ready to give up on Rolling Acres as a shopping mecca. Theyd like to see Walmart open there because the store would attract shoppers and other stores and restaurants. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)




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Harlem Road resident Nicole Skotschir’s front yard is at the back entrance of Rolling Acres Mall. Skotschir, 31, isnt sure exactly what shed like to see happen with the site. Something to bring in jobs, she said. Even more factories. Theres a lot of unemployed people around here so something that would bring more jobs in would be lovely.
(Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)




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Bob Mileti, owner of Primo’s Deli, talks about Rolling Acres Mall which is located close to the Vernon Odom Blvd restaurant. Earlier this week, a Columbus financial services and real estate development firm pitched the idea of turning the former Rolling Acres Mall into a massive youth sports complex. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)




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Rolling Acres MallEarlier this week, a Columbus financial services and real estate development firm pitched the idea of turning the former Rolling Acres Mall into a massive youth sports complex. It would feature indoor and outdoor facilities for basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, soccer, lacrosse and other sports at the site of the former mall, which is now owned by the city. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)




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Article source: http://www.ohio.com/business/what-should-be-done-with-former-rolling-acres-mall-here-are-12-ideas-1.699538

Salvation, healing for addicts in the valley of death

Allie Ward fell into addiction as a teenager bent on rebellion, never considering it might heave her into a churning sea of dependence — riding on waves of doping and getting clean, just to be tugged under again and again.

Amika Ward turned to drugs and alcohol to numb childhood traumas.  She ran away from an addicted and abusive mother at age 9. By the time she was 11,  she was dancing at a strip club.

Miranda Glascock was a cutter in high school, using a blade to get a rush. Then, she started taking her father’s prescription painkillers; she got hooked and then discovered heroin was cheaper and easier to get.

Related:Daddies, daughters dance toward rebuilding relationships

None of them knew when they got their first high that it could one day make them wish for death. They didn’t know they would live on the streets or in their cars, or that they would steal, cheat, lie or turn tricks in abandoned houses to score the next fix.

None of them considered how the shame from all the things they’d done to get high could take over, leaving them feeling as if there was nothing left to live for. They all tried short-term rehab programs, but always ended up in the same place. Addicted. Hurting. Homeless.

But finally, each of them climbed the steps of an old post office in Pontiac, where Pastor Kent Clark’s Grace Centers of Hope offered a last stop before giving up. Inside that remodeled post office, Clark’s evangelical Christian ministry is helping to save lives and breathe fresh air into a city suffocated by poverty and crime.

With half of the staff made up of recovering addicts, Grace Centers of Hope has invested $7.5 million over the last five years and now owns 26 acres  in Pontiac, which includes 45 homes it calls Little Grace Village.  And earlier this month, the nonprofit opened the William A. Davis Women and Children’s Center  at 210 N. Perry, which can accommodate 106 women and children in a one-year life skills program.

The expansion is a vital step. In the last year, Grace Centers reported that it denied about 8,500 requests for shelter for women and children due to lack of space.

“There are no throwaway people,” said Clark, CEO of Grace Centers of Hope and senior pastor of Grace Gospel Fellowship.

Although the organization had a strained relationship with city leaders in the past, current Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman had nothing but praise for Grace Centers of Hope and the change it has brought to the community.

“We do have an overall hope in the city to eradicate blighted homes that have been abandoned or lost to foreclosure. There’s been an ongoing effort, and there have been a number of entities that have helped and have centered in a particular area. Grace Centers of Hope has helped to do that in the area … adjacent to their church property and the William A. Davis Center.”

“It’s a win-win situation to enhance lives.”

Last year alone, the organization provided more than 45,000 nights of stay and more than 100,000 meals for homeless men, women and children through its transitional and emergency shelter and one-year life skills programs. It can house  229 people at any one time.

In 1989, Clark came to Pontiac Rescue Mission, which began  in 1942 as an emergency homeless shelter for men, and immediately saw a problem.

“We were a flophouse, basically,” said Clark. “We were feeding, clothing, sheltering, and they were collecting a welfare check and stealing cars. Same people in, same people out. Feed, clothe, shelter, throw them a welfare check, then do it again. If all you’re doing is keeping the drug addict alive, that’s horrible charity, and that’s kind of what was going on.”

He and his wife, Pam Clark, who has a PhD in Christian counseling, continued the emergency shelter, but added a faith-based, one-year program to help people not only overcome their addictions, but also give them work opportunities and transition them into affordable housing. They added a program for women and children in 1991 and changed the name to Grace Centers of Hope in 2000.

“When I started, most of the people we served were African-American men, inner city, and using crack cocaine,” said Pam Clark.

“And it’s totally flipped now. It’s not inner city; it’s suburbanites. They’re homeless from the suburbs, young and using heroin.

“Heroin definitely is the biggest problem.”

Roughly 95% of the people who take part in Grace Centers of Hope’s one-year program are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

‘I was on anything and everything’ 

Allie Ward was swept up by addiction.

“I started when I was 14,” said the 27-year-old, who grew up in Grand Blanc. “I was just very disobedient. I always thought the grass was greener on the other side. I come from an upper-middle-class family. My parents gave me everything on a silver spoon. They paid for college and I dropped out … .

“When I was 18, I ended up going to rehab my first time. … I went for just about everything, but mostly for opiates and heroin. I was on anything and everything. If it was in front of me and I could use it, I would do it. It started out with weed and alcohol when I was younger, and I moved up to coke.

“I never got into crack, but opiates … ,” she said, shaking her head. “I got my first taste of OxyContin when I was about 16, or I guess 17. I was in high school. Prescription pills in high school was a big thing.”

She overdosed at least five times, she said, but in 2012, when she was living in Florida, a combination of Roxicodone and Xanax left her so close to death, medics called her mother in Grand Blanc and urged her to get on the next flight to Tampa.

“She didn’t know if she was coming to get her daughter alive or dead,”  Allie Ward said. “I was unconscious three days in the hospital, and then I managed to stay clean until right after I had my daughter.”

Her little girl, Aubree, was born in August 2013, but  Allie Ward’s pregnancy was rocky because she was living with an abusive boyfriend.

“He pushed me down the stairs seven weeks before I was due” to give birth to Aubree, she said. “I was due Sept. 13. I ended up having her Aug. 24.

“Four of the vertebrae in my back were separated, and they couldn’t hold labor off; there was no stopping it. They did give me an epidural and I didn’t feel anything at all, actually. … I told them I was an addict. They completely over-medicated me.”

Afterward, she was prescribed opioid pain medications; the physical abuse continued at home and she slipped back into using.

“The last time, he head-butted me and broke my nose and shattered my orbital bone,” she said. “I have a plate from here to here on my face. He knocked out all of my top teeth on this side. I have a partial on the top of my mouth now. I ended up with eight surgeries. I have had an obscene amount of prescription pain pills.

“I started actually taking full-on, like daily prescription pills in December after I had my daughter. Then the bottom just completely fell out.”

Her beloved grandmother died, and she just couldn’t cope.

“I started using heroin about two weeks after my daughter’s second birthday.”

She told her mother the truth, and they made a deal.

“As long as I was clean and doing what was right, I could see my daughter. But this was my turn to fix it,” she said. She started drug rehabilitation at Grace Centers and enrolled in the one-year life skills program.

“I signed guardianship over of my little girl to my parents in October. … It was a big awakening. I had to do it. It was the first selfless thing I’ve ever done, signing those papers. The day I signed them, it was devastating. The day I signed them, I thought I was giving my whole entire world up. But I knew what I had to do for my daughter. I feel like she needed a healthy mom, and until I could step up and be the person that I needed to be, her safest place was at home with my parents.”

After several months in the program, Aubree was able to visit her mother at Grace Centers. And she moved in with her at the Women and Children’s Center when it opened earlier this month.

When she finishes the one-year program, she and Aubree plan to move into a room in one of Grace Centers of Hope’s rehabbed homes as part of its two-year after-care program, which provides low-cost room rentals in Little Grace Village.

Aubree can attend the Grace Centers of Hope’s day care center while Allie Ward works and goes to school. She wants to finish her degree and help others struggling with addiction.

A community for people to rebuild their lives

Years ago, dozens of birds flew free within the walls of a house on Seneca Street in Pontiac. Layer upon layer of bird droppings caked the floors.

Across the street, prostitutes turned tricks in a two-story home with a pretty front porch that in its heyday probably welcomed neighbors with lemonade and iced tea on warm summer days.

Nearby, a woman was murdered in a house that was later abandoned, its windows shot out.

Another house was firebombed.

Each of these homes was reclaimed, bought at auction or donated to Grace Centers of Hope, and now they’re all part of Little Grace Village, which includes 45 rehabbed houses and a playground in the City of Pontiac, an island of poverty in a sea of relatively affluent Oakland County.

The median household income in Pontiac was $27,632 in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared with $66,436 countywide.

It’s a place where two in every five residents lived below the poverty level that year, and for women-led households with children 18 and under, more than half — 58.1% — were poor. Poverty, crime, abandoned and foreclosed houses were all big problems.

Where most people saw Pontiac as a city stricken with poverty and blight, the Clarks saw opportunity. Where others saw addicts and undesirables, the Clarks saw potential for so much more.

In 2001, Grace Centers of Hope started buying up the dilapidated properties on Seneca, Fairgrove, Moreland and Perry streets for $1 to $10,000. The Clarks’ vision was to turn those homes into a respite for recovering addicts and their families, a community for people to rebuild their lives.

With the help of volunteers, employees and even some of the recovering addicts themselves, the homes were transformed into low-rent housing for people in the two-year after-care program. Those who stay in Little Grace Village rent rooms for about $350 a month; their roommates are others who’ve graduated from Grace Centers of Hope’s one-year program. They build a community and are surrounded by people just like them, people who can pick them up when they fall down.

Because many former addicts have bad credit histories, spotty resumes and prior convictions, it’s tough to find housing. Many landlords won’t lease to them, and banks won’t give them a mortgage. Leases within Little Grace Village help them start over. It gives them an affordable place to land as they learn job skills and work toward becoming healthy.

Last year, 80% of the graduates of the one-year program continued with two-year after-care, many of them getting jobs within the nonprofit.

They work in its four thrift shops and on its campus, supporting others as they go through treatment and learn to live in recovery. Right now, 50 of the 100 people Grace Centers of Hope employs are graduates of the one-year program.

I spent everything I stole on heroin

Little Grace Village is where Brad Cairns lives now after years of struggling with drug addiction.

“I grew up in a good family, you know. Both my parents were good parents. I just kind of got into drugs early,” said Cairns, 38, who grew up in Lake Orion. “I did it with the older kids to be cool. And then, as I used, I just felt more at home in my own skin. I drank and smoked weed for a long time and got into heroin in my 20s.

“I got surgery when I was 30, and I was on some really heavy-dose painkillers. But it was cheaper for me to do heroin. I could sell a bottle of my pills for like $4,000, and be able to buy a whole bunch of heroin. And, you know, the high was better.

“I’ve stepped over people who’ve passed to get to the dope man. And it didn’t bother me at all. My heart was gone. When you live in that life, you do what you have to do to survive. … I lost a lot of friends to drugs and pretty much everybody I cared about outside my family has passed. So that’s kind of how I dealt with everything; I’d get high.”

He was in and out of short-term rehab programs, but nothing worked. In the winter of 2013, Cairns was struggling most with being homeless and cold.

“I was at the end of my rope. I was living in my van, driving from Meijers and Walmart parking lots to stay. Pretty much everyone I knew was gone because of the drugs. It was cold out, and living in my van was not fun at all. I spent everything I stole on heroin.

“You don’t see any old heroin addicts. It’s not something you can do for a long time. I definitely did not see myself being alive for long. … I actually hoped for it. I was tired of living the life of waking up every day, trying to figure out how I was going to rob to get enough money to support that day’s habit, stealing cars and that sort of stuff. … It was a hot mess of a life.”

A friend reached out to him on Facebook. She suggested that he try Grace Centers of Hope.

But Cairns recoiled at the thought of taking part in a faith-based recovery program that requires participants to attend religious services at Grace Gospel Fellowship twice a week.

“I wanted nothing to do with religion,” he said. “But my friend was like, ‘Listen, just go for a week. They’ve got food. It’s warm.’ It was the dead of winter.

“So I gave it a try. I came in, and God didn’t strike me down. I was like, I’ll just stay here until it gets warm, and then I can live outside. But as each week went by, it got better.”

Cairns took a job in the kitchen at Grace and found a passion for cooking, music and reading science fiction books. And he came to embrace his own spirituality, too.

“The religion thing wasn’t forced on me. You have to find your own path to God, or it’s not going to be a true path.

“The more I looked at my life, and the things that happened, you know, I realized I shouldn’t be alive. I shouldn’t be here. But somehow I was and I couldn’t explain it. He (God) has some kind of plan for me.”

Cairns, who now is employed by Grace Centers of Hope as a volunteer coordinator, isn’t sure what that plan is, but he thinks it might be helping others who are addicted find fulfillment in sobriety.

He lives in a four-bedroom home on Seneca Street with three other men who graduated from the one-year program.  It once was a whorehouse.

“You know, there’s that community here,” he said. “And I think that’s the biggest and most unique thing about Grace. With other programs, ‘They’re like OK, see you later. Good luck! You’re done. But here, I’m with three guys in this house who I went through the program with. We know each other, and you know, if things are going sideways, you can count on the people around you.

“Everybody looks out for everybody, you know? I think that’s the coolest part about this.”

‘It’s people helping people’

Grace Centers of Hope manages its $8.2-million annual budget without government funding. Much of it comes from donations and from sales at its four thrift stores. On July 12, it won a $100,000 grant from the Art Van Charity Challenge.

“We get 12,000 volunteers here in a year. It’s people helping people,” Clark said. “We’re really getting back to the basics. This is what I call America the beautiful, really, where people, not government, are helping.”

And yet it isn’t without controversy.

In the early 2000s, there were concerns within city government that the Clarks and their growing ministry drew unwanted addicts and homeless people to the city.

Pontiac police raided the shelter in 2001 looking for felons; instead, it found a few people with misdemeanors. Fire inspectors ramped up inspections of the shelter, and the Clarks’ applications to expand were denied.

Others have questioned its evangelical Christian-based approach and don’t like that the Clarks’ daughters and son-in-law are on the payroll.

Leaders from other nonprofits say it’s hard to deny the good that’s happening within the organization, even if Grace Centers takes a different approach to providing services.

“I am excited to see Grace Centers of Hope so invested in rehabilitating Pontiac because we certainly need to invest in the community and they have invested in a big way,” said Elizabeth Kelly, executive director of  HOPE Hospitality and Warming Center in Pontiac. “Every house that’s rehabbed means there’s somebody who gets to live there, and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Ryan Hertz, president and CEO of the South Oakland Shelter, said: ”While South Oakland Shelter’s volunteers, staff and even clients are frequently inspired by their own sense of faith or family tradition or lack thereof, our organization’s mission is to find people housing that lack it in our community whatever they may choose to believe. Our measure of success is moving people off the streets and out of shelters into sustainable housing solutions and for other challenges in their lives we coordinate with many organizations in the community. We aren’t trying to be everything to everyone. We have partnerships with churches, synagogues and mosques that help us achieve our mission.”

‘You don’t get kicked out here’

Though many find help at Grace Centers of Hope, not all make it through the full one-year treatment program. Of the 322 men and women enrolled in the program in 2015, 56 graduated. That number does not include those who enrolled in 2015, but were on track to graduate from the program in 2016.

“A lot of us will stumble and we will fall, but you don’t get kicked out here,” Cairns said. “If you relapse, you’ll go back to the mission for like 30 days, 60 days and try to figure out what happened, what was going on in life that you gave up and went back to using?

“When you’re done, you get to come back here to your room. You still have your house, and everybody is still supporting you to raise you back up. Having that community and that support network is why, I think, a lot of us stay sober here.”

Amika Ward is among those who dropped out. A year ago, she was living on the streets in Flint, sleeping in abandoned houses and running from the specter of death.

“I was severely addicted to alcohol, drugs. I was homeless,” Amika Ward, 42, told the Free Press during an interview in late spring. ”I remember walking down the street, and I used to always feel like there was something following me. I was just terrified. I used to think that it was death, like death was following me. I thought there was something that was going to get me. With that, I was ready to end my life. I was ready to just die. And I cried out, and asked God. I said I needed some help or I didn’t want to stay in the world anymore. And he showed up.”

She called 911 and said she was suicidal. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital and later was admitted to a 21-day rehabilitation program.

“I said, ‘You know what? This is not going to work. Twenty-one days is not going to get it. I’ve been suffering from addiction for well over 30 years.’

“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you try Grace?’  … I knew that the word of God was being preached there, and I believed that in order for me to change my life, I needed to change my heart.”

She started a journey last fall that to most would seem insurmountable. Her mother was mentally and physically abusive and an addict. Amika Ward was 6  when her uncle began to molest her. She ran away from home when she was 9. By 11, Ward was dancing at a club, drinking and smoking pot.

“I thought that was what I was supposed to do,” she said. “All the grown-up people were doing it, so I was going to join in. I started drinking. It became an everyday thing. The alcohol led to smoking marijuana. Smoking marijuana led to doing the powder cocaine. Powder cocaine led to crack cocaine, so I can see where the cycle started.

“As life became harder, the harder the drug I needed.”

Amika Ward’s own mother had her first child at age 12.

“Her dad believed that breaking in the girls was the custom for them,” Amika Ward said. “So I believe she had a really, really rough childhood. She won’t talk about it, so it’s just the way it rolled. She had a lot of stuff that happened to her as a child. I think she grew up really early, and unfortunately, it just trickled down.

“My mother sold me to a crack dealer; I tried to have a relationship with this gentleman, but after I found out that he was giving my mother crack to sleep with me, things got really ugly.”

Amika Ward got pregnant; when their daughter was 2, the crack dealer fought for custody of their baby girl and won.

“I didn’t know how to raise her,” she said. “I was not a good mother. I was abusive. I was starting the cycle with her that my mother started with me, and she was taken from me. I was about 18, and I wanted to kill myself then.  I had some crack cocaine, and I wanted to kill myself. But I didn’t. I became addicted. I began a crack habit, but I didn’t like where it took me.”

Two decades later, Amika Ward was still addicted and homeless. She finally had enough and turned to Grace Centers for help.

She went through several months of treatment, but dropped out before the end of her one-year program. For confidentiality reasons, Grace Centers of Hope could not explain why.

‘I was getting high to die’

Jill McLoskey spent 35 years addicted.

She started drinking at 15 to cope with a childhood that looked great on the outside but was dysfunctional behind the doors of her family’s Huntington Woods home.

“There was a lot of things in my childhood that led me to feel the way I did about myself,” said McLoskey, 54. “It is what it is. I played the victim role for a really long time, and I let that become a catalyst for addiction. So I just, I always numbed myself.”

She smoked marijuana, drank and took pills on the weekends. Sometimes, she did it before and after work, too. Somehow, she managed to hold a job as a technician at a solar manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills and owned her own condo in Lake Orion.

“It was a good job. I was there for eight years,” she said. “If they knew, they didn’t let on because I was such a good worker. And I didn’t really use crazily there. I would get high, smoke pot and work, but I was still functioning there.

“Then, when they outsourced and I got laid off, I just lost it. That’s when I really went crazy.”

“When I lost my job, I didn’t know what to do. So I just got high. I used my whole 401(k). I spent 30 grand in six months on pills and alcohol. I was always saying, OK, next month I’ll look for another job. But I never did. I just got high.

“I lost my job and I lost my family, and I just didn’t care. Really, for me, I was getting high to die. I would wake up every morning asking God why am I still alive? It would kill anybody else, what I was taking. It would kill a horse. But I know now why he kept on waking me up.

“He woke me up for this. He woke me up for this. Truly.”

She rents a room in a Seneca Street home with a wrap-around porch and works as a counselor at Grace, helping other women who are addicted learn to embrace sobriety.

“I am there to serve the women,” she said. “I’m there to be everything I can be to them, their support, their confidante, their ear. I’m responsible for them. I’m there to make them feel safe. The women are coming from situations that they haven’t felt safe in a long time.

“I’m called to love them unconditionally. If it wasn’t for the unconditional love from the staff there, I wouldn’t be who I am. It’s a love like, we love you no matter what. Unconditionally, I love you. Sometimes, it’s tough love, but that’s what saved my life.

“I don’t care where you’ve been. I don’t care what you’ve done. I don’t care. I love you. And they let us love them. It’s the love that you feel in that place, the love of Christ. God uses these women as vessels and that really is the difference. … Sometimes, they haven’t been in a stable home for more than two or three months at a time. They come here and they know what it’s like to be part of a family. They come here and they feel structure.”

McLoskey is now part of a prayer group that’s working to revive the city of Pontiac.

“We want to be like the pebble you drop in the water, and it spreads out, you know?” she said. “As addicts, we were such takers. One of the things we pray for in the prayer group is that we become givers and not takers.

“We are given so much in this program. People mow our lawn for us; they do everything for us. What we need is to take that and take it out to the community and to other cities and mow someone else’s lawn, or just go out and make ourselves known, you know? … This is what we’re called to do. As Christians, we are responsible to go out into the world because the world won’t come to us.”

That, said Melissa Rodriguez, director of donor relations and special events, is the beauty of the program the Clarks have built.

“This is when the program comes full circle, when you see lives like Jill’s that were broken and fragmented. They go through the program, the entire program, and they come out on the other side, and they’re whole,” Rodriguez said. “And they’re giving back and pouring into the next person. That’s where the healthy cycle continues, and the cycle of addiction ends.

“And that’s the difference with this program. That’s the difference.”

Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

HOW TO HELP

Volunteers are needed to help Grace Centers of Hope rehabilitate houses, stock its food and toiletries, work in its thrift shops, kitchens and so much more. For a complete look at volunteer opportunities available, go to www.gracecentersofhope.org/content.cfm?id=3092 or call volunteer coordinator Brad Cairns at 855-435-7424, ext. 1134 or e-mail him at BCairns@gracecentersofhope.org. You also can call Miranda Glascock at 855-435-7424, ext. 1142 or e-mail her at MGlascock@gracecentersofhope.org. 

Donations also are needed not only of food, but clothes, diapers and baby wipes, toiletries and more. To donate, go to www.gracecentersofhope.org/content.cfm?id=3148  or call 855-435-7424. 

Article source: http://www.freep.com/story/life/family/kristen-jordan-shamus/2016/07/23/salvation-healing-addicts-valley-death/86721446/

Forget USA Today, here’s a study that puts Fall River in a better light

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Article source: http://www.heraldnews.com/news/20160722/forget-usa-today-heres-study-that-puts-fall-river-in-better-light

Washington state bars pre-foreclosure lockouts

SEATTLE – Laura Jordan came home from work one day to find herself locked out. She had missed two mortgage payments, and the company servicing her loan had changed the locks without warning.

In a ruling this month, the Washington Supreme Court found that action illegal — a decision that clears the way for a federal class-action case that Jordan brought on behalf of at least 3,600 borrowers in the state, and one that could have broad ramifications on how some lenders respond when homeowners miss payments.

“This is criminal trespass and theft, and it should be treated as such,” said Sheila O’Sullivan, executive director of the Northwest Consumer Law Center. “There’s no basis for them to walk in and change the locks on a person’s home until they have foreclosed. It’s an important ruling.”

The mortgage industry is wrestling with the significance of the 6-3 ruling, which found that provisions standard in mortgage documents around the country conflict with state law. The provisions allow for lenders to change locks, winterize homes or take other steps to preserve the value of properties that are in default or abandoned.

In a friend-of-the-court-brief, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation — better known as Freddie Mac — highlighted the importance of such provisions in maintaining its collateral and avoiding blight that might harm property values in a neighborhood.

But the court held that they violate state law, which prohibits lenders from taking possession of property before foreclosure. The court addressed the question at the request of a federal judge in Spokane, who is overseeing the class action.

Washington appears to be the first state that has invalidated the provisions, the plaintiffs’ lawyers say, and consumer advocates say other states could follow suit or that the ruling could inspire additional class-action lawsuits.

In Jordan’s case, Dallas-based Nationstar Mortgage hired a vendor to inspect her Wenatchee property after she missed a couple mortgage payments in 2011. The vendor posted a notice on the door saying the property was “unsecure or vacant,” prompting the company to have the locks changed. Jordan, a dental hygienist, argues that she was still living there, and that when she got home from work, she found herself locked out. The new key to the house was in a lock-box, and she had to call Nationstar to get the combination to retrieve it.

“She could no longer access her home without going through Nationstar,” Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority. “This action of changing the locks and allowing her a key only after contacting Nationstar for the lockbox code is a clear expression of control.”

Nationstar said it was evaluating whether to ask the court to reconsider to narrow the impact of the decision. A spokesman for Freddie Mac said the organization would not comment on the ruling.

“For many years, we have followed standard industry practices regarding property preservation,” Nationstar said in a statement. “Particularly if broadly construed, the decision will likely hamper loan servicers’ efforts to maintain abandoned properties and avoid blight in Washington communities.”

The Northwest Consumer Law Center, which works with financially troubled borrowers to help them modify their loans or otherwise retain their properties, argued that the reason Nationstar was quick to change locks was to prompt people to move out — making it more likely that foreclosure would proceed uncontested. Several borrowers whose locks were changed said their properties were incorrectly deemed abandoned, and that they believed they had no right to remain once the locks were changed.

Clay Gatens, a Wenatchee lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, said that if properties are abandoned and at risk, under Washington law lenders do have a quicker alternative to foreclosure, which can take months. That’s to have a court appoint a receiver, he said.

Gatens said he’s seeking damages that include the fair rental value of the class members’ properties between the time the locks were changed and the time the foreclosures were eventually completed — a period that typically spanned eight to 10 months, meaning damages could easily reach into the tens of millions of dollars, he said.

“You have all this egregious behavior,” he said. “These folks are in economic distress. They don’t know what’s happened — they just know their home’s been broken into and the locks have been changed, which prompts them to move. This ruling has got broad, broad ramifications in Washington to stop this practice, but I think it will have national impact as well.”

Article source: http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/money/2016/07/22/mortgage-defaults-premature-lockouts/87445810/

The David Grossman Memorial Lecture: Eviction, Displacement, and the Fight to Keep Communities Together

David Grossman

Clinical Professor David A. Grossman ’88

The David Grossman Memorial Lecture, entitled “Eviction, Displacement, and the Fight to Keep Communities Together,” was held at HLS on April 5.  Grossman ’88,  who died last July, was a lawyer and teacher dedicated to serving the poor, and he was Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau for close to a decade.

In introductory remarks to a packed room in Austin Hall, Dean Martha Minow reflected on Grossman’s work “strengthening tools and spirit, both necessary for helping people in need, for changing laws and enforcing laws, and changing the politics around those laws.”

“With formidable intellect, constant courage, David brought tremendous humility, humor, friendship, outstanding sunglasses to every encounter, and he elevated allies and opponents alike,” Minow said. “He modeled what it is to engage in the world with respect for every person, even if you disagree with them.”

Minow introduced the lecturer, sociologist Matt Desmond, as “a champion for the goals and the values and the humanity exemplified by David Grossman and advanced by him every day.”

matt_desmondDesmond, a MacArthur “Genius” grant winner who published the book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” in March, is John L. Loeb Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project.

Desmond shared his experiences living in a trailer park and an inner-city rooming house in Milwaukee as part of his sociological research. He spoke about how he integrated into the lives of his neighbors. He focused on a mother named Arleen and her two young sons, and the family’s struggle to find stable housing.

“The home is a center of life,” Desmond said. “It’s the well-spring of personhood. It’s our refuge from work and the menace of the streets. … In languages spoken all over the world, the word for ‘home’ encompasses not just shelter but warmth, family, the womb.”

Eviction causes loss, said Desmond, and it can bar people from receiving government help and cause workers to lose their jobs. “Eviction is not just a condition of poverty; it’s a cause of it. It’s making things worse. We can’t fix poverty in America if we don’t fix housing,” he said.

“I think housing should absolutely be a right to everyone in our country and the reason is very simple: without stable shelter everything else falls apart.”

To deliver on that obligation, Desmond proposed, we should create a universal housing voucher program. “Instead of paying 88%, 70%, 60% on housing, if you had a voucher, you could take that voucher and live anywhere you wanted, as long as your housing wasn’t too expensive or too shoddy, and you could pay 30% of your income on housing, with the voucher covering the rest. That would fundamentally change the face of poverty in America. It would drive down evictions. It would drive down homelessness.”

Desmond addressed the question of how the country would afford such a program: “Some economists have argued that if we take the housing voucher program that we have and make it more efficient, we can extend the program to all families below the poverty line without much additional spending. If we did nothing to make the housing program more efficient, it would probably cost us an estimated $22 billion a year. That’s not a small figure, but it’s also one that’s well-within our capacity.”

“We have the money; we just make choices about how to spend it,” he said. “Today, housing related tax expenditures—like the mortgage income tax deduction—far outpace those for housing assistance to poor renters. Most federal housing subsidies benefit families with six-figure incomes. If we’re going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent, at least when it comes to housing, let’s just be honest about that, let’s just own up to that, and stop repeating the canard that this wealthy nation can’t afford to do more,” he said.

“But I think one thing is certain: this degree of inequality, this cold denial of basic rights, this blunting of human capacity, this level of social suffering—this isn’t us. This doesn’t have to be us. By no American value is this situation justified. There’s no ethical code, or holy teaching or Scripture, that can be summoned to allow us to defend what our country has become.”

Following Desmond’s remarks, housing activists participated in a panel discussion led by Eloise Lawrence, a clinical instructor at Harvard Legal Aid Bureau who worked with Grossman on Project No One Leaves. The panel discussion focused on the work the panelists are doing in their communities, and what they have witnessed.

Panelists included, Adam Meyers ’13, a staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation; Kerry Chance, a lecturer on Social Studies and an Oppenheimer Fellow at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research; and Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana.

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Meyers, who worked with Grossman on Boston housing issues as a student leader and now represents tenant associations and community groups fighting displacement in North and East Brooklyn, N.Y., described the problems wrought by gentrification in the communities he works with, primarily Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. “These are communities that, 40 years ago, were populated largely with recent immigrants. These are folks who, when nobody else wanted to live here, when private capital had abandoned these neighborhoods, these folks moved in, they worked together, they forced out the drug dealers, they repaired their own housing, sometimes they went through legal procedures to become cooperative owners of this housing.”

“They built these neighborhoods, and now that these neighborhoods are attractive, they are being pressured out by the rising rents,” he said.

Chance, who has done extensive ethnographic and historical research in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, South Africa and is currently writing a book on South Africa’s urban poor entitled “Living Politics,” said South Africa’s modern history “could be told through successive evictions.”

“The apartheid era enforced segregation between 1948 and 1994 was achieved though housing resettlement, when millions were forced to relocate,” Chance explained. “With the election of Nelson Mandela, housing became not only a right enshrined in the new South African constitution in 1977, but moreover a cornerstone of nonracial democratic citizenship, the material goods of a new social contract forged out of mass struggle.”

“Yet evictions never abated in poor communities” and in fact evictions have begun to intensify since the mid-1990s, Chance said.

Chance shared the story of Monique, a Cape Town domestic laborer who cycled between evictions and homelessness with her young children. Eventually, after a violent eviction that involved police shooting rubber bullets into a crowd, Monique and others like her formed the Poor People’s Movement, also known as the Anti-Eviction Campaign.

“As this story suggests, residents in South Africa and the United States are finding themselves at the tail end of very similar global processes, for instance, neoliberal policy reforms and aggressive cost recover,” Chance said. “Yet there are important differences that play out on national and local scales, notably that in South Africa, the primary interlocutor—the agents evicting you, appearing in court, and yes, profiting—tends to be nested within the state, whereas in the U.S. it tends to be in the banks or corporations.”

Owens spoke next. Her organization, which is based in Jamaica Plain, focuses on promoting tenant rights and preventing housing displacement. Describing Boston as “a city of renters,” Owens discussed the ongoing effects of the foreclosure crisis.

“Communities of color in Boston overwhelmingly and disproportionately bore the brunt of this major transfer of wealth,” she said. “Homeowners whose life savings were literally sunk into their homes—all of that vanished, so those people joined the large pool of renters in the city. So there’s more competition, but their income didn’t rise.”

“We’ve got corporate investors buying up the existing housing stock, we have new luxury development being constructed in the city of Boston, and all of this contributes to the skyrocketing housing costs. So we’re being squeezed by multiple angles.”

“What’s happening is that working class people who otherwise would have been able to afford renting in Boston are seeing their rent doubled, tripled, and in some cases quadrupled,” Owens said. “Really, it’s a cleansing of the city, either by design or by happenstance. What’s happening is that low-income people are being pushed out.”

Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, explained how her organization is “a tenant and homeowner movement” that holds weekly meetings where more than 100 people gather to work together on their housing problems. The organization addresses housing issues with a two-sided approach, combining the “sword” of collective action with the “shield” of legal defense in housing court.

She illustrated her City Life’s “sword and shield” strategy by telling the story of a tenant who, after receiving notice of an exorbitant rent increase, worked with the organization’s legal team to negotiate better terms not only for herself but also for her neighbors.

“We have lots and lots of stories about how, when we fight together, one person’s case actually has this ripple effect,” Owens said.

Article source: http://today.law.harvard.edu/david-grossman-memorial-lecture-eviction-displacement-fight-keep-communities-together/

@ISSUE: When will NJ housing prices recover?

For most New Jersey homeowners, the value of their home remains substantially below what it was more than a decade ago. How soon is that likely to change? And why has the recovery in housing prices been slower here than in other states? Jeffrey Otteau, president of the Otteau Group in East Brunswick, answers these questions and more about the state of real estate in New Jersey.

In what year did housing prices in New Jersey hit rock bottom? How much was the average median selling price off from the peak?

The statewide peak in New Jersey home prices occurred in 2005, reaching a median selling price of $311,000. Home prices then declined by 23 percent contemporaneous with the 2007-2009 economic recession and the slower pace of economic recovery in New Jersey, to a cyclical low of $254,000 in 2012.

RELATED: What can be done to stimulate housing market?  

On average how much have prices recovered in New Jersey? How long will it take for prices to get back to their peak?

Since the cyclical low in 2012, median prices have increased to $273,000 through year-end 2015, reflecting a 7 percent increase from that low point, while remaining 18 percent below the 2005 peak.

The home price recovery has been much slower in New Jersey compared to most other states because of the more challenged economic conditions here. Based upon these trends, we are projecting that home prices will recover to their 2005 price-peak in 2023. A more accurate way to phrase that, however, is that home prices achieved their 2023 level 18 years ahead of schedule because of the loosening of mortgage underwriting standards beginning in the mid-1990s.

RELATED: New Jersey homeowners relieved, but renters squeezed: 

The bounce back in prices has been uneven in New Jersey. In what counties has the recovery been strongest and weakest, and what accounts for the differences?

There is a clear pattern whereby those places that are closest to Manhattan, situated primarily in the northeastern and central parts of the state, have seen more robust price recovery. This is particularly true in towns with a commuter rail station within their borders offering direct service to Manhattan. Places like Summit, Chatham Borough, Montclair and Ridgefield all are outperforming the rest of the state.

Other parts of the country have recovered far more quickly and strongly than New Jersey? Why have we lagged behind?

The economic recovery in New Jersey from the 2007-2009 economic recession has been much slower than in other states. The primary reason for this is the state’s anemic private-sector job growth, which is largely attributable to its high costs, burdensome tax structure and restrictive suburban land-use policies.

Also, the globalized economy coupled with the rise of technology has made employers more sensitive to controlling costs, which is a problem in our state. Evidence of this can be seen in the number of large employers like Mercedes Benz and Hertz that have relocated to lower cost states. Also worrisome is that those employers that have decided to remain, or to come here from other states, have been awarded large economic incentives as bait. This is the equivalent of paying customers to eat in your restaurant instead of the other way around. While this approach has merit as a short-term solution, it fails to address New Jersey’s fundamental challenges and is clearly unsustainable.

Zoning laws in suburban communities also are a contributing factor to the state’s slow economic growth, as they discourage the development of more-affordable higher-density forms of housing. Ultimately, these restrictive land use controls have the effect of pushing people and businesses to relocate elsewhere. No economy can prosper over the long term under this set of conditions.

RELATED: Affordable housing projects move forward at Shore

Is the millennial generation ever likely to see a run-up in home prices as was experienced during the late 1990s and midway into the 2000s?

One of the things I’ve learned is to “never say never.” Still, this is highly unlikely to recur in the future. It’s instructive to recognize that the unsustainable run-up in home prices over this time period was in large part a result of an economic and social engineering experiment in the 1990s to lower the credit standards for mortgage underwriting in order to promote economic growth through a “juiced” housing market. Think “housing on steroids.”

That experiment worked for a while as the national home ownership rate rose from its long-term historical norm of 64 percent to an unprecedented 69 percent, creating 5 million new homeowner households in the process. What wasn’t accounted for, however, is that a significant share of those new households weren’t able to afford the homes they were purchasing, which was the primary catalyst for the ensuing foreclosure wave and global financial crisis.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this, but the clear take-away is that the lessons learned from this miscalculation have spawned a more aggressive regulatory structure, which is likely to remain in place for quite some time.

Still, there are some places where home prices are poised to rise at a faster clip than anywhere else. These consist primarily of semi-urban communities with under-performing mixed-use downtown areas that are serviced by a commuter rail station. These “emerging-markets” are in the process of implementing redevelopment plans that will introduce modern multifamily rental housing in close proximity to stagnant street-front retail stores as a catalyst for economic growth. Keep an eye on places like Hackensack and Bloomfield, as well as larger cities like Newark and Camden, which have been getting a lot of attention from the development community recently.

RELATED: Which Shore towns have the most underwater homes

What is happening on the new housing construction front? What type of housing is in most demand now?

The slower pace of economic growth in New Jersey has had a corresponding effect on household income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income declined by 18 percent from 2006 to 2014 in New Jersey, ranking 50th in the nation. This compares to an average nationwide decline of only 5 percent, a 4 percent decline in New York and a 3 percent decline in Pennsylvania. One of the effects of these changes is that households in the state are migrating to a more urban lifestyle due to the efficiencies of smaller living spaces situated near to employment, retail services and public transportation. As a result of New Jersey’s slower economic recovery, median household income has slipped from being the highest in the nation in both 2005 and 2006 to being ranked ninth in 2014.

These changed circumstances have brought increased demand for multifamily forms of housing, which are generally lower in cost than single-family homes. As a result, the accelerating pace of new residential construction in New Jersey has been entirely concentrated in the multifamily sector, while single-family home building remains depressed. This is a very different pattern than in prior decades when single-family construction dominated.

For decades, Monmouth and Ocean counties historically led the state in new housing starts. Now, Hudson and Essex counties appear to be the leaders in new construction. What accounts for the shift?

While there are multiple reasons for this shift, a primary factor has been the widespread down-zoning of land by suburban municipalities in recent decades in which minimum required lot sizes were increased in an attempt to reduce the number of homes built, and by extension, public school enrollments.

This, in turn, pushed the sizes and prices of new single-family homes higher, making them too expensive for younger-age households to afford. The result has been a declining population of “millennial” households and an acute affordable housing crisis in the state. A byproduct of these conditions is that younger-age millennial households are being forced to leave the suburbs in search of the relevant housing choices that predominantly exist in more urbanized areas of the state.

If left uncorrected, the economic prospects for New Jersey’s suburban communities is dim as employers are forced to relocate their operations closer to the millennial talent pool they seek to recruit. These developments are responsible for elevated vacancies in suburban office buildings across the state.

RELATED: New Jersey jobless rates falls; why are workers frustrated? 

What is the future of McMansions and small-lot, single-family homes?

While there will always be a place for luxury single-family homes in New Jersey, those places are becoming fewer in number. Primary sub-markets with superior accessibility to employment centers and transportation will continue to experience strong demand for luxury homes. That demand, however, will be smaller in number due to the combined effects of New Jersey’s constrained economy and a growing trend in which wealthy households are “going urban.” The result of these changes is that luxury housing in outer-ring suburbs and rural places will see a substantial decline in luxury home demand.

The flip side of the coin is that demand for small-lot, single family homes and multifamily housing too has been substantially increased. While the early evidence of this came from rising demand for rental apartments, townhouses are becoming increasingly popular among ascending millennials and downsizing baby boomers. Regrettably, however, local zoning laws in most suburban communities do not permit townhouse or small-lot single family housing. The unavoidable consequence of this failure to accommodate consumer preferences, is that those consumers will shop elsewhere. In this case, it is driving housing demand, and its attendant consumer spending and wealth, out of many suburban places.

Why does New Jersey still have such a high percentage of “under water” homeowners — those who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are currently worth? Is N.J.’s high ranking likely to change any time soon?

New Jersey will probably remain near the top of the list when it comes to mortgage delinquency and foreclosure, due in large part to its more subdued economic growth. Another contributing factor is that the state was more aggressive in halting the completion of foreclosure actions during the moratorium years when it was discovered that financial institutions didn’t have their paper work in order. Our state has always been a staunch defender of consumer rights, which is this case creates a much larger backlog of pending foreclosures than in other places. When you add together the larger backlog with slower improvement in the economy, the No. 1 ranking is easy to understand.

The urgency to solve this problem is increasing now that the next economic recession may occur in the next several years, which would have the effect of driving foreclosure rates higher. We need to clear out this backlog before that occurs.

What percentage of New Jersey homeowners remain under water today, and how does that compare to the peak? How many years do you expect it will take for the under water rates to return to normal?

Some 12.1 percent of the 1.9 million homes in New Jersey with a mortgage have an outstanding mortgage balance that exceeds the value of their home. This compares to 10.3 percent nationally, 4.2 percent for New York and 5.9 percent for Pennsylvania. Still, some states have a higher proportion of negative equity like Florida (15 percent), Illinois (14.4 percent), Maryland (12.9 percent), Nevada (17.5 percent), Ohio (12.3 percent) and Rhode Island (13.3 percent).

What impact is the large number of under water homeowners having on real estate prices?

Elevated mortgage delinquency, foreclosure and negative equity act to create a drag on home prices and the overall economy. This is because sales of foreclosed homes in a given market, when they occur in significant numbers, can have the effect of reducing achievable selling prices for non-distressed homes as well. Looking beyond the direct effects on the real estate market, owners of distressed properties are more likely to defer maintenance on their homes, which can reduce the appeal of entire neighborhoods.

A closer look at these trends indicates that the majority of pending foreclosures and negative equity are concentrated in the state’s largest cities and remote rural areas. For most of suburban New Jersey, the number of distressed homes is relatively low.

What kind of appreciation in housing prices do you foresee in New Jersey in the short- and long term?

We’re forecasting a 3 percent increase in home prices in 2016, on a statewide basis. This will vary considerably, however, from one place to another. Homes that are closest to Manhattan will rise the most and those in rural places will see relatively nominal increases.

Looking ahead, New Jersey home prices are likely rise by 2-4 percent on a statewide basis until the onset of the next economic recession, when prices will either stop rising or begin to decline again. Those declines, however, will be much smaller in scale than the last time due to the reduced leverage in the market.

Is investment in a home still a wise financial choice?

It absolutely is. Because of the inverse relationship between home ownership and rentership, the slow recovery in home prices has translated into large increases in rental prices. These dynamics have created a very favorable environment for the investment value of housing, which in most cases has an after-tax cost that is less than renting.

What has changed, however, is that the magnitude of future home price increases will likely be more modest than has occurred in past decades. But this can also be taken as a positive since periods of rapid home price escalation create volatility, which is typically followed by price declines.

One of the wild cards in this equation, however, is the uncertainty associated with future tax reform. To the extent that any reforms reduce or eliminate the favorable tax treatment for home ownership, the equation may change. This is especially true for second-home ownership, such as vacation homes.

Jeffrey G. Otteau is president of Otteau Group Inc., which provides valuation and advisory services to financial institutions, governmental entities, developers, and investors. Otteau is frequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, has made television appearances on CNBC, Bloomberg and NBC, and has been recognized by NJBIZ as one of the “Most Influential People in the Real Estate Industry” for the past 6 years.

Article source: http://www.app.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/07/21/housing-prices-new-jersey/87385298/

Meet Nana I Am, the mystery man behind a bizarre Las Vegas squatter case

L.E. Baskow

Location of a former squatter house at 5464 Sierra Brook Court on Thursday, May 26, 2016.

Thursday, July 21, 2016 | 2 a.m.

Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part series.

He sues all the time but never seems to win. He writes his name countless different ways. Accused squatters say he gave them keys to an abandoned, custom-built house and coached them on what to tell the police if they came knocking.

He calls himself Nana I Am — and he’s at the center of perhaps the most unique and bizarre squatter case in Las Vegas.

Nana teamed with Miguel and Dinora Barraza this year to sue the owners of an abandoned, high-end home in the northwest valley. The trio claimed to be the real owners, sought more than $20 million in damages and said they took possession of the house in 1900 — 105 years before it was built.

Las Vegas Squatter House

Launch slideshow »

Metro Police raided the house a few months ago, arresting the Barrazas on squatting-related charges. They hoped to win the lawsuit so they could live for free in the foreclosed home, according to an arrest report, but Dinora told police they made one payment: Nana got $800 to file the suit.

Squatters have taken over abandoned houses throughout the valley the past few years, but the saga of Nana and the Barrazas is different than most. It’s marked by luxury homes, suspicious real estate transactions, a squatter Cinco de Mayo party, ties to anti-government “sovereign citizens” ideology and lawyer-less lawsuits in which the plaintiffs seek hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars and make nonsensical claims.

“Obviously none of the plaintiffs were alive in the year 1900,” a Metro officer wrote in the Barrazas’ arrest report, adding their lawsuit’s claim that one fraud was perpetrated between 2014 and 1900 “unmistakably does not make any sense.”

At the root is Nana I Am, a mysterious figure who’s been accused of posing as an attorney and of filing court cases, for a fee, to help people stall evictions or foreclosures. Also known as Nana-Amartey-Baidoobonso-IAM, among other variations, he is connected to at least five homes in Southern Nevada: two in the northwest valley, one in the southwest, one off Sahara Avenue about 5 miles west of the Strip and the Barrazas’ former house in North Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Sun found.

But he’s tied to possibly dozens of properties in Southern California, and court records indicate he’s mostly partnered with people who lost their home to foreclosure, not people who moved to abandoned properties.

“I guess he expanded his business to include squatters,” said Huntington Beach lawyer Julian Bach, whose client was sued by Nana.

It’s a ripe market here.

Years after the economy crashed, Las Vegas remains littered with thousands of empty homes, many of which were abandoned during the recession by people with heavy financial problems. And despite the valley’s improved housing market, Metro Police are receiving a rising tally of squatter complaints, with reports from low-income, middle-class and affluent neighborhoods alike.

A black market of sorts took shape — people have broken into vacant homes, changed the locks, drawn up bogus leases and “rented” properties out, often through Craigslist. Stories abound of squatters meeting their “landlords” at convenience-store parking lots to pay their rent in cash and showing bogus rental contracts to real estate agents or police officers who stop by.

An attorney for almost 25 years, Bach says one person who reminds him of Nana is Gilfert Jackson, of Los Angeles. Jackson was arrested in 2009 for allegedly falsely promising homeowners that he could “prevent foreclosures and evictions from their property,” the FBI said at the time. He also was sentenced to prison in 1998 after he allegedly filed more than 200 bogus bankruptcy cases “in a scheme to help renters and homeowners stave off eviction and foreclosure,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Jackson was “the godfather of this activity,” Bach said. But Nana “really took it to a new level” with lawsuits in federal court and by filing “fraudulent” deeds against properties, even after they were seized through foreclosure.

Nana once sued a client of Bach’s for $25.5 million, but the case was dismissed a few months later. The client later won a countersuit. Bach never met Nana, but as far as he could tell, Nana would find distressed properties and charge people a fee “to delay foreclosures and evictions for as long as possible.”

Metro Lt. Nick Farese of the suburban Northwest Area Command, which received the most squatter calls in Metro’s jurisdiction the past few years, said he had not seen anyone, until the Barrazas, sue to take ownership of a house they were allegedly squatting in.

He figured the Barrazas filed the suit, as well as other cases, simply to “commit crimes and get stuff for free.” The house they sued for — 5464 Sierra Brook Court, near Ann Road and the 215 Beltway — is one of the nicest he’s seen get hit by squatters and had a larger-than-average group of people allegedly staying there.

Metro received calls that 15 to 20 people were in the two-story, six-bedroom, 4,600-square-foot home, which boasts a dual staircase in the foyer, granite countertops and views of the Strip and downtown skylines from the backyard.

“The house was huge,” Farese said.

It’s not the only high-end house in the neighborhood with ties to Nana, either.

When the Barrazas’ group was staying on Sierra Brook, some cars that were seen at the house also were spotted at a foreclosed, 5,400-square-foot home on La Mancha Avenue a few blocks away, a neighbor said. When the Sun visited that house in May, wooden barricades blocked part of its driveway and a sign out front said “WARNING: No Trespass On This Private Land.”

The sign warned of a $5,000 daily fine, said the owners were “Peaceful” and “Law-Abiding,” and declared the home to be “Under 24 Hour Video Surveillance — All Rights Reserved.”

In the lower-left corner, the sign also had Nana’s name and phone number.

• • •

When Nana I Am filed for bankruptcy in 2013, he was no stranger to the courts.

The judge ordered him to show why the case shouldn’t be dismissed. He noted that Nana had filed at least five bankruptcies in prior years, and at least four were tossed from court because he failed to make payments or file required documents. Also, the latest case appeared to be part of a dispute between Nana and a creditor, the judge wrote.

Nana told the court that he was trying to save a church from a supposedly illegal foreclosure. He claimed in bankruptcy papers to have a $500,000 claim against the creditor, Fred Westberg, and that his only debt, at $12,000, was held by Westberg.

The judge, however, dismissed the case and barred Nana from declaring bankruptcy again for about six months.

Westberg had lent money to a commercial-property owner in Los Angeles, foreclosed on the borrower’s building and then had to evict people from it, said Christine Kingston, Westberg’s attorney in the case. But Nana had “no relationship whatsoever” to the people involved in the transaction.

“We don’t even know who this Nana I Am person is,” she told the Sun.

Nana did not respond to requests for comment, and his identity remains, for the most part, a mystery.

Court filings indicate that he lives in the Los Angeles area, and a person who served him court papers in 2012 described him at the time as black, 45 to 55 years old and 200 pounds. In 2013, Nana wrote in court papers that he was single and indicated he had a 10-year-old daughter, Jennifer; a 7-year-old daughter, Light; and a 4-year-old son, Elohim, a Biblical Hebrew word for God. He also wrote that he was a consultant and earned an average of $2,500 per month.

California state records show he registered a business called “America’s Outcry” Enterprises Inc. (sic) as a nonprofit, and a LinkedIn profile says he owns America’s Outcry. “I can help you save your home!” the profile says.

His name and phone number are listed on cancelamortgage.com. “Stop paying mortgage payments on fraudulent loans!” the site declares. A man named Al McZeal runs the website, and he operates another, almczeal.com, that offers “a legal way to keep possession after eviction.”

McZeal and Nana have filed some identical-looking cases. Court records show the same hectic mix of underlined words, bold lettering, varied font sizes and pseudo-legal jargon. They’ve both sought huge payouts, too. McZeal once sued dozens of banks, law firms and others for $246 billion.

They’ve joined forces at least once: In 2012, Nana and McZeal sued 23 banks, mortgage companies and others for $10.7 billion. They claimed one fraud was perpetrated against them “between January 00, 1900 and January 00, 1900.”

Like Nana, McZeal also represents himself in cases he files.

“It has often been said that ‘one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,’” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in 2008, in a case involving a home in Houston that McZeal purportedly bought while it was heading toward foreclosure. But, the court wrote, McZeal “seems to reject” this notion and helps people “in financial trouble” sue their creditors without an attorney.

The court — which noted McZeal has a “history of filing frivolous complaints” — said he showed “no evidence” that he was the home’s rightful owner.

McZeal, who also has a telecommunications business called Global-Walkie-Talkie, did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Nana also is connected to the Vision of Faith Hope, an entity that provides no clear sense of what it does and where it operates.

In one section of its website, the group says its main offices are in Seattle but notes “we also have two other post in Africa and Middle East” (sic). It adds that the group has worked since 1993 to “eliminate poverty and provide emergency relief, rehabilitation, and development activities in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and other surrounding countries.”

But in another section, it says its goal with “every action” is “to build community through a vibrant Louisiana nonprofit sector.”

The website does not appear to list any staff members or Nana’s name. But his email address and phone number — the same L.A. number that’s included in many of his lawsuits — are listed in the “Contact us” section.

Above all, Nana’s name itself is an enigma.

It’s unclear what his real name is, and the Sun found only one hint that it’s something other than Nana I Am: A 2011 court filing by Nana says he was formerly known as “Allen Hart Jr. Cesti Que Trust.” The phrase “cestui que trust” means someone is the beneficiary of a trust.

His usual moniker is written numerous ways in his own court papers, with different punctuation, spelling, spacing and word order. They include Nana “I AM,” Nana A. Baidoobonsoiam, Nana Baidoobonso and Nana Amartey Baidoobonso-“I AM.”

Nana has been sued at least three times in recent years, court records show, but one in particular offers a window into his alleged operations.

The case, filed in 2012 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, claimed that Anita Rios and her husband, then facing foreclosure, learned of a TV commercial that claimed to help people keep their homes.

They called and were told to meet at the offices of Diamond Real Estate in Downey, Calif. While there, representatives told them Nana was a lawyer and “an expert in handling foreclosure-related matters in bankruptcy courts,” Rios alleged.

The couple hired Nana to help with their bankruptcy filings and paid $2,000, part of a $3,500 retainer, the lawsuit claimed. But the representatives later told the couple that Nana could only be an observer in the case, and at the first meeting of creditors, he “attended as a spectator but refused to provide any assistance.”

In a court filing by all of the defendants except Nana, the group said they never told the couple that Nana was an attorney, were surprised he collected money for legal services and “only mentioned” that Nana “could help in their situation but did not know to what extent.”

“The only individual who is responsible for these acts is Nana-Baidoobson-Iam” (sic), they wrote.

Diamond lawyer Grace White said in a court filing this year that Nana “just happened to be in the office that day and represented himself to be a lawyer to all defendants and plaintiffs.”

But, she wrote, Nana was not an attorney and filed their bankruptcy anyway, and the couple lost their home to foreclosure.

“The only party who received any monies,” she wrote, “was Mr. Baidoobonso.”

White did not return a call seeking comment, and a call to Diamond’s listed number also was not returned.

Kingston, the creditor’s lawyer, never met Nana. But she suspects he offers to help save people’s homes from foreclosure, for a fee, and the main goal is probably to “buy them time” as they file cases in various court systems.

Their filings “screw things up so royally (that) nobody knows what the heck just happened.”

“It’s ridiculous,” she said.

Rios’ lawyer, Jerome Zamos, said there was a “bigger kind of phenomenon” going on.

People facing foreclosure get pitched by groups offering to help: Nana allegedly claimed to be an attorney; others say they’re real estate experts or sponsored by various groups; and others have claimed to be part of Donald Trump’s organization, Zamos said.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “they’re all scams.”

Prosecutors have charged some people, he said, but “why haven’t they gone after the rest of them?”

David Lopez, head of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office real estate fraud section, says there is a “cottage industry” of people who target distressed homeowners with supposed lifelines but merely scam them.

He said there used to be a bigger number of “organized rings” out there — his office once worked a case that involved nearly 1,000 properties in Los Angeles County alone. But now, amid an improved housing market and smaller inventory of distressed homes, scams are typically run by individuals.

He said Nana wasn’t unique but that police and prosecutors in Los Angeles were aware of him, as people have complained about him to Los Angeles County’s consumer-affairs department.

Lopez declined to say whether Nana has been investigated, but added: “He’s on the radar of local authorities.”

• • •

Searching Nana’s names in court databases did not reveal any indictments against him. Las Vegas police, however, are aware of him.

Metro Officer Jose Martinez wrote in the Barrazas’ arrest report that Nana and Miguel and Dinora Barraza were suspected of forgery. According to the report:

• Miguel initially told police he was renting the house on Sierra Brook and had known Nana, the purported landlord, for eight years but would not describe what Nana looked like or what kind of job Nana had. He said Nana gave him the keys to the house, and he admitted a bank owned the property, not Nana.

• Judith Barraza — who, according to court records from another case, is Miguel’s daughter — admitted their lease for the house was bogus and that Nana coached her on what to say if the police showed up.

• Dinora told police they hadn’t paid rent or a deposit for the house. The only money they spent, she said, was $800, which was given to Nana to file the lawsuit.

• When Martinez asked Dinora why they took over someone else’s house, she said they were presented with the opportunity to possibly get a free home. She said they talked it over, it looked good, and “they did not think about the consequences,” Martinez wrote.

Asked who Nana is, Lt. Farese told the Sun that he couldn’t comment.

“It’s part of an ongoing investigation,” he said.

Metro officers had raided the house May 11, arresting the three Barrazas and a man named Robert McMinn Jr. on squatting-related charges.

Robert McMinn

Dinora Barraza

Miguel Barraza

They are scheduled to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court on July 26. Court records do not show an attorney for them.

A phone number for McMinn could not be found. When the Sun called Dinora Barraza’s phone number, a woman answered and then passed the phone to another woman. When asked for comment from the family, that woman said, “We don’t want interviews.”

She hung up when the Sun asked for her name.

• • •

After defaulting on his mortgage, Erasto Alcantar lost his home in Oxnard, Calif., to foreclosure. But he allegedly refused to leave, and he went to court to fight for the property — with Nana I Am.

Nana and Alcantar teamed up in 2011 to sue real estate companies, the Oxnard Police Department and an Oxnard officer who threatened to arrest Alcantar if he tried to re-enter the home. They alleged wrongful foreclosure and breach of contract, seeking $900 million for “intentional infliction of emotional, mental, physical and psychological stress.”

“This lawsuit is yet but another example of a homeowner who … has been foreclosed upon, evicted and then commences frivolous litigation, alleging all types of ‘illegal’ and ‘wrongful’ acts … throwing everything but the kitchen sink up on the wall to see what sticks,” attorneys for some defendants said in a court filing.

A federal judge dismissed the suit a few months after it was filed.

Since 2009, records indicate, Nana has filed at least 37 lawsuits in federal and California state courts. They often involved foreclosed homes that other people owned — usually the same people he sued with. In more than a few cases, his co-plaintiffs allegedly stayed in their home after foreclosure and faced eviction.

His lawsuits can be dubious at best — he’ll claim a foreclosure was illegal but doesn’t really show why — but look ludicrous given the piles of money he tries to get. Nana has sought $468 million in one case, $700 million in another and $900 million in at least three more, court records show.

Nana has sued alone and doesn’t seek enormous payouts in every case. Moreover, the Sun could not confirm how he found the people he sued with or how they found him. But, it seems, his cases usually fizzle, sometimes because he disappears after filing them. For example:

• In 2009, Nana and Ramon Aguirre sued for a house in Altadena, Calif. They sought to take ownership and at least $100,000 in damages, but the suit derailed after their $350 check to file the case bounced. The judge gave them another chance to pay, but he dismissed the case after they failed to do so.

• In 2012, Nana and Blanca Cardenas sued for a Los Angeles duplex that she lost to foreclosure. They sought $25.5 million in damages — they also wrote $900 million — but a judge dismissed the case a few months later, saying Nana and Cardenas “repeatedly missed or ignored deadlines and court orders” and “failed to participate in their own litigation.” They filed the suit Feb. 17. According to a story in LA Weekly that didn’t mention Nana or the lawsuit, Cardenas was arrested Feb. 22 for trespassing at the property and deported to Mexico a week later.

• In 2013, Nana and Otilia Luna sued for a Los Angeles home. Luna and her husband lost the property to foreclosure that year but “failed to vacate” and faced eviction, court papers say. Nana and Luna sought $42 million and claimed they still owned the house, but a judge dismissed the case less than two months after it was filed.

Efforts to reach several of Nana’s co-plaintiffs, including Alcantar, Aguirre, Cardenas and Luna, were unsuccessful.

Mark Carlson, a lawyer in the Oxnard case, never met Nana. But, he told the Sun, he figured Nana was “trying to eke out a living by getting people to pay him a little bit of money to file these things and then get a settlement here or there.”

Carlson had a prior run-in with him, at least on paper. After Nana sued a client of his in 2010, Carlson obtained court approval deeming Nana a “vexatious litigant” in California, meaning Nana thereafter had to get a judge’s approval before he could file cases in state court.

Nana had filed several cases that were “shams” and “frivolous” and were intended to “hide properties” facing foreclosure, Carlson said in court papers.

• • •

Nana seemed to have a change of heart toward Carlson’s client in the 2010 case, brokerage firm Boardwalk Properties of Long Beach, Calif.

Boardwalk owner Mike Potier did not respond to requests for comment. But in a typo-riddled email to him enclosed in a court filing, Nana wrote that he looked at Potier’s card “and saw a symbol on it which made me realized that you are a man of God just like me and started feeling bad. So I deceided that I call you this morning, talk to you, and get to know you and drop my law suit.”

Nana wrote that his “anger and frustration is not towards you per say, but the lender who took our property illegallyand put my family out and collected the insurance money.”

“It is so said that because of GREED and SELFISHNESS of a hand full of people at the top has desecreated our economy. … And my prayers everyday is calll onto God The Belovd Almighty I AM Presence to release his Almighty Powers into action and blast and annihilate, desolve and consume and remove from trhis earth, all those individuals who are determined to desercrate Americas economy and destiny.”

Nana added that he and Potier “are brithers in Christ and we are suppose to love and teach others to do good deeds and not to hate. But money is the root of all evil and some of us choose to sell their sole for it.”

“All what I ask from you,” he added, “is to give me and my cusin at least 3 weeks or less to relocate.”

On Friday, Part Two will focus on the Las Vegas homes that are tied to Nana and the Barrazas.

Article source: https://lasvegassun.com/news/2016/jul/21/meet-nana-i-am-the-mystery-man-behind-a-bizarre-la/

What U.S. Cities Can Learn From Puerto Rico’s Crisis

Wherever there’s a budget crisis, from Detroit to Chicago to California to Puerto Rico and beyond, communities aren’t just losing public services. City employees also get salaries frozen or cut, put on furlough, or laid off entirely. For unions, which still represent around 35 percent of public sector employees, budget crises can be a huge existential threat.

In the aftermath of the 2008-2009 foreclosure crisis, Saqib Bhatti was looking into the roots of budget crises as a researcher for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “Members had been severely impacted by the financial crisis both because they directly in many cases were losing their homes or having their hours cut because cities and states were facing severe budget crises,” he says.

Bhatti says he began looking at the ways in which Wall Street both helped cause the foreclosure crisis by peddling predatory loans, “and then ways in which Wall Street was then able to additionally make money off budget crises by swooping in with predatory deals to try to help cities make ends meet.”

Today, Bhatti continues his research as director of the ReFund America Project and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. In its latest report, “Puerto Rico’s Payday Loans,” the ReFund America Project shines a light on a specific type of predatory deal called a capital appreciation bond, which it argues is the municipal version of a payday loan.

“Why do working-class families take out payday loans? It’s not because they think it’s a good loan, it’s that they have to put food on the table,” Bhatti says, and it’s the same for Puerto Rico, Chicago, California and all over the country.

It’s no coincidence that state and local governments issued more capital appreciation bonds in 2009 than any other year before or since, according to EMMA, the official repository for information on municipal securities.

By focusing attention on capital appreciation bonds, Bhatti thinks unions, community-based groups and other allies fighting for public sector jobs and vital services may find a powerful leverage point to get at least some of municipal or state debt canceled.

ReFund America’s report found that Puerto Rico has $37.8 billion in outstanding debt from capital appreciation bonds. But the underlying principal, or how much Puerto Rico actually borrowed, is only $4.3 billion. The remaining $33.5 billion in debt is interest, which is nearly half of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion in debt.

The reason why the interest on capital appreciation bonds is so high is the same reason why the bonds are so attractive to cash-strapped state and local governments. With a capital appreciation bond, rather than making payments throughout the life of the bond, the issuing agency or municipality usually makes only a single payment of principal plus interest upon the bond maturity date, which can be years or even decades away. Interest compounds the entire time.

“Public officials are looking at it saying we’ve got to put food on the table, and maybe in 30 years when we have to pay this back, something will change,” says Bhatti. “Or at the very least, I won’t be in office anymore. It’s kicking the can down the road so it’s somebody else’s problem.”

According to documentation available on EMMA, Puerto Rico issued a capital appreciation bond in 2011 for $62.5 million, which is tied to a full repayment of $342.4 million, due in 2039. “In a traditional 30-year bond, you pay roughly equal amounts principal and interest,” Bhatti explains.

The ReFund America report proposes three ways to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt. First, the $33.5 billion in interest should be canceled.

“If no one lent Puerto Rico that $33.5 billion, if that’s just investor profit, well at the very least we can’t afford investor profit in the midst of a humanitarian crisis,” says Bhatti.

Second, current bondholders should not receive more than what they paid for to buy the bonds. Since Puerto Rico’s economy has taken a turn for the worse, many of the original Puerto Rico capital appreciation bond investors have already written off the losses and resold the bonds at a discount to other investors. According to ReFund America’s report, some of the investors have bought the equivalent of one dollar of debt for just five cents.

“In a humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico should not have to pay investors back more than they put in,” says Bhatti.

Because the debt can be bought so cheaply, Bhatti points out, it’s also an opportunity for a solution — someone or a group of someones could buy all capital appreciation bonds from Puerto Rico or other places, and simply cancel all or part of the debt. John Oliver made headlines doing just that on his TV show for personal medical debts, and groups like Rolling Jubilee and American Homeowner Preservation have been doing that for other forms of predatory personal debt.

Lastly, ReFund America is also advocating that Wall Street banks should have to return the fees they charged to put together the capital appreciation bond deals. ReFund America found that Wall Street banks charged Puerto Rico $221 million for just a subset of Puerto Rico’s capital appreciation bonds, with potentially hundreds of millions more for the rest.

“The banks made a lot of money putting deals together that they knew were predatory, that they knew were unsustainable, they designed them to fail, they should have to return that money,” Bhatti charges.

To advocate for this approach to restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt, ReFund America works with an assortment of community-based groups on and off the island. In other places, such as Illinois or California, where agencies have issued large numbers of capital appreciation bonds, unions remain active partners for ReFund America.

“There’s different partners in different places that are really active on these issues, that have been working, engaging in budget fights for a long time, but are now really looking at what are the underlying causes of budget crises, who’s making money off of it, and how do we hold them accountable to get money back to put into our communities,” says Bhatti.

Bhatti has also been exploring the idea of the equivalent of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for state and municipal governments, which would help regulate the issuance of capital appreciation bonds and other predatory public debt in the future. But for now, there is plenty of work to do getting some of this debt canceled. Four-hundred and forty-seven capital appreciation bonds have maturity dates this year across the U.S., some of them issued as far back as 1984. Nationwide, another 411 capital appreciation bond transactions already took place in 2016.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Oscar is a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist with a background in global development and social enterprise, he has written about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. He has a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.

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Article source: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/puerto-rico-municipal-debt-payday-loans

Protesters Blockade Oakland Police Union Hall, Demand City ‘Fund Black Futures’

click to enlarge Protesters locked themselves to the doors of the Oakland police union building.

  • Protesters locked themselves to the doors of the Oakland police union building.

Calling on the City of Oakland to “divest” from its police department and invest public funds in schools, housing, and job training, about two dozen protesters blockaded the Oakland Police Officers Association union hall today. Several locked their necks to the building’s doors. The protesters succeeded in closing the OPOA’s headquarters while officers stood nearby watching.

Oakland police Officer Johnna Watson told the Express that officers on scene would “facilitate” the protest and wait. She said there was no intention of trying to remove the protesters by force.

The direct action at OPOA’s building coincides with similar disruptions at police union headquarters in New York and Washington D.C. today.

Oakland’s Black population was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, and Black residents are much more likely to suffer unemployment, homelessness, and serious health problems. A recent study conducted by Stanford University researchers found that OPD officers disproportionately stop, search, and handcuff Black people.

Earlier this year the Oakland City Council established a Department of Race and Equity in an effort to reduce racial disparities in city services.

This year the city council budgeted $242 million for the police department, or about 20 percent of the city’s total available funds. By comparison, Oakland’s libraries received $30 million and the city invested $17 million in economic and workforce development. Oakland’s new Department of Race and Equity has a budget of just $312,566.

Last month Oakland’s mayor and city council approved another $5.4 million in police spending as part of the city’s mid-cycle budget amendments. The increased spending included $1.18 million for a police academy to begin after May 2017, and $1 million set-aside to fund a police proposed commission.

click to enlarge Oakland cops wait patiently in the shade during a protest at their union hall today.

  • Oakland cops wait patiently in the shade during a protest at their union hall today.

click to enlarge Cat Brooks of the Anti-Police Terror Project tells officers and firefighters not to attempt to remove a protester whose neck was locked to the building's door.

  • Cat Brooks of the Anti-Police Terror Project tells officers and firefighters not to attempt to remove a protester whose neck was locked to the building’s door.

click to enlarge Oakland police Lieutenant Bobby Hookfin supervising officers who responded to the protest.

  • Oakland police Lieutenant Bobby Hookfin supervising officers who responded to the protest.

Article source: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/07/20/protesters-lock-themselves-to-oakland-police-union-building