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Rochester man fights eviction

For the second time since December, George Douglass is prepared to handcuff himself to a 55-gallon drum filled with hardened concrete rather than go quietly when city marshals show up to evict him from his 19th Ward home.

“I live here,” said Douglass, who purchased his three-story Rochester home at 95 Roxborough Road with his ex-wife back in 2008. “When we bought this, we were both gainfully employed and we said this would be where we would spend the rest of our lives and where our children would grow up.”

What they didn’t expect then was that Douglass would lose his job in early 2009, nor did they expect the health problems that came, and then the divorce that left Douglass, now on disability, trying to pay for the house alone with a much lower income.

On Monday, Douglass was joined in protest on his front lawn by members of Take Back the Land Rochester, a community group that works to have housing recognized as a basic human right. He and Take Back the Land held a similar protest on Dec. 2, also seeking then to keep the city marshal from forcing Douglass to vacate the house.

He says he tried for loan modification, but was unable to work out terms with lender Wells Fargo Bank. However, officials from the bank said they were unable to get adequate information from him to determine if he would be eligible for a loan modification or other alternative to foreclosure and moved forward with the foreclosure sale in 2014.

James E. Hines, Wells Fargo spokesman, said the lender also offered financial relocation assistance, but got no response.

“We work very hard to help keep families in their homes when they encounter financial difficulties,” he said. “When customers who are 60 days or more past due choose to work with us, we help 7 out of every 10 avoid foreclosure.”

As a pair of officers from the Rochester Police Department looked on, protestors marched the sidewalk in front of Douglass’ home on Monday, carrying anti-foreclosure banners and chanting.

“We’re here if necessary to do civil disobedience to defend his home from the banks,” said Luke Spencer with Take Back the Land. “We are still in negotiations with the bank, but they haven’t done what we wanted so we’re resorting to doing an eviction blockade.”

Ideally, he said, the bank would agree to donate the house to a community land trust, which would be a nonprofit community-governed organization that would steward housing and land parcels, ensuring that they remain occupied and affordable. Such organizations often enter long-term renewable leases with homeowners instead of offering traditional financing, and when the homeowner sells, the family earns only a portion of the increased property value. There are about 250 community land trusts currently across the United States, according to community-wealth.org, a project of the Democracy Collaborative.

Hines said the property isn’t available for donation through the program Take Back the Land Rochester has described to the lender. “We can sell a property through that program, but we are unable to donate a property through that program,” he said.

David Tolar, also with Take Back the Land, called for changes to federal rules to make it easier for banks to turn over properties like Douglass’ to land trusts without having to force people out of their houses.

He said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires foreclosing lenders to evict occupants of a home before they can collect the mortgage insurance on Federal Housing Administration-backed loans.

“That’s the tangle that we’re trying to undo to try to get things donated to the land trust,” he said.

Douglass said he isn’t looking for a free house.

“How do you think that would make the rest of my neighbors here feel while they’re still paying their mortgages and I got a free home,” he said. “But, really, how much are they going to lose if the bank renegotiates with me? They bring in billions of dollars and the few thousand they might drop off by renegotiating with me isn’t going to kill a financial institution the size of Wells Fargo. They could afford to absorb 10,000 such situations.”

A cadre of Take Back the Land volunteers is sitting with Douglass at his home all this week, hoping to head off his eviction.

MCDERMOT@DemocratandChronicle.com

twitter.com/meagmc

Article source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/03/30/rochester-man-fights-eviction/70682570/

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