Occupy Wall Street Re-Occupies Foreclosed Home in East New York: A Report From the Scene

ows_blockparty.jpeg
Nick Pinto
Occupy Wall Street ushered in a new phase of its movement yesterday when about 400 people participated in a collaborative takeover to re-occupy a vacant foreclosed home in East New York for a homeless family.

The afternoon's event, part of a collaborative National Day of Action effort taking place in over 20 cities, was accompanied by a real estate tour of five foreclosed buildings in the area, a block party, and even some intermittent rain that posed no real threat to the day's planned activities.

The neighborhood was one that most of the day's participants would rarely venture into, with its high crime rates, vacant buildings, and bodegas. Once an enclave for working class Italian, Jewish, and other European immigrants, East New York is now a predominately Black and Latino area affected by extremely high unemployment.

During the event, Minister Patricia Malcolm, a Brooklyn-based activist, said the rate of foreclosure in the neighborhood was three times higher than the rest of the borough and fives times that of the state . Data from New York City's comptroller's officer found that the area led the city in the number of foreclosures with about 16.8 per 1,000 households receiving court filings for the legal process in 2010.

The pivotal part of the afternoon took place during the second half of the event, when organizers led an occupation on Vermont Street and revealed the homeless family that would occupy the home after Bank of America took over the residence three years ago.They were Tasha Glasgow, and their 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Alfredo Carrasquillo, the father of the children, spoke.

"This moment is very special," Carrasquillo said before pausing and saying "Wow" as he stood against the backdrop of multicolored balloons, enlarged black and white photographs of his family, and other décor, including a bright yellow sign stating "Foreclose On Banks Not People." Before he could go on, he choked up, unable to finish the rest of his speech to the crowd gathered in front of him.

The family, the first to take part of the new OWS effort, has been staying in shelters for weeks. They once received a housing voucher through the city's Advantage NY housing program, but it was later withdrawn due to city-wide budget cuts.

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Michelle D. Anderson
Marchers shouted an array of chants during a tour of foreclosed homes, including "Our homes are under attack. We've come to take them back" and "All day, all week. Occupy East New York"

Several local community groups were present, including VOCAL-NY, formerly the NYC AIDS Housing Network-NYCAHN and the host of the dislocated family; Organizing for Occupation; Picture the Homeless; and Take Back The Land. City Council members Charles Barron and Ydanis Rodriquez also spoke.

The march began shortly after 1 p.m. right outside of the Pennsylvania Avenue train station. The group eventually turned onto New Jersey Avenue, the location of the foreclosure tour's first home. From there, the group eventually returned to Pennsylvania Street. Although the event's facilitators and guides carried neon orange directional signs, the group was not without navigation problems.

Near the corner of Blake and Pennsylvania, one of the event's speakers stood atop the steps of a boarded up home and proceeded to lead part of the crowd in a series of a chants, only to have a facilitator approach him, wildly motioning with his hands for the man to stop speaking and follow the march's leaders a few houses away. (A bright yellow sign on the building read: "First Time Home Buyers. $1000 Down.")

Once the crowd reunited at a residence further down the block, Councilman Barron spoke and then asked the crowd to turn around and look at all of the students at Thomas Jefferson High School hanging out the windows. Up until that point, it seemed that very few participants noticed the pupils watching, but it proved to be a highlight of the afternoon as people eagerly waved at the students and cheered. The crowd shouted, "You are the 99 percent" before eventually heading south several blocks to New Lots Avenue to stop at a foreclosed home on Sheffield Avenue.

At the residence on Sheffield, Bertha Lewis, former president of ACORN, addressed the crowd, explaining why the local groups chose targeted the area to launch its Occupy Your Homes initiative.

"It is no mistake that we are here in East New York today," Lewis said. "East New York has become Ground Zero for predatory lending."

Dane Isaac, a long-time resident of the neighborhood, watched the group march down New Lots Avenue from his porch.

"It's about time that they pay attention to the homes around here," he told the Village Voice, referring to the general public and politicians. Isaac said many of his friends had been affected by foreclosure in other parts of the borough. When we asked him why he thought the foreclosure rate was so high in his neighborhood, he said predatory lending is commonplace.

"Most people here are not working. They are easy targets," he said.

One neighborhood resident, standing in front of a bodega on New Lots Avenue, took pictures of the participants with his cell phone telling a colleague nearby, "Brooklyn ain't seen something like this in a long time."

After visiting the home on Sheffield Avenue, the group stopped at a home in the 700 block of Alabama Avenue, where a woman gave an impromptu speech on her struggle to keep her home.

Before addressing the crowd, Jocelyne Voltaire, a homeowner in Queens who came to show her support, could be heard shouting, "I cannot take it anymore. Enough is enough!" "I need to speak!"

The crowd became silent as volunteers led her up to the steps of the home. She spoke about her inability to sleep and eat because she said her lender, Deutsche Bank, wanted to take away her home. Voltaire shared the loss of her son after fighting in Kuwait and Iraq, her new illness, and said she had put down $80,000 on her home after living there for more than two decades.

The group finally settled at Vermont Street and proceeded to renovate the once-abandoned residence, offering "housewarming" gifts like green plants and holiday décor. An erected sign on the roof of the home read, "You cannot evict an idea whose time has come."

The family entered the home shortly before 4 p.m. Participants erected tents symbolizing occupied homes on the block, which also served as stations for food, teach-ins, and other activities. Later, people broke out in song and danced to the live band that accompanied the entire march.

Michael, a cashier at Jiggy Duz Unisex Beauty & Barber Salon on New Lots Avenue, said he was shocked to see the crowd and that he had been concerned about all of the vacant buildings in the area.

Currently, there is an effort to pass Intro 48 in the City Council, proposed legislation that would require the city to conduct an annual count of vacant buildings and lots in all of the city's boroughs. Introduced by Council member Melissa Mark Viverito, some activists see it as a solution to homelessness because it would identify empty buildings that could ultimately be converted into low-income housing for those in need. The proposed bill is similar to Intro 248, which was passed by the Council in August.

NYPD presence increased throughout the afternoon, with police cars following the crowd and with some officers even getting on top of a building on the corner of Vermont and New Lots Avenue to monitor the block party below.

[manderson@villagevoice.com]

[npinto@villagevoice.com]

Go to Runnin' Scared for more Voice news coverage.

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7 comments
edward.lamb
edward.lamb

FORCLOSED

Here I stand, alone

Cold and lonely

As a chill farewell;

Cold and still

As a barren womb, unvisited.

Empty, now, my hearth

No fuel to feed the fire

Nor hand to tend

No living soul abides,

Nor cat, nor mouse

An abandoned sepulchre 

Haunted by silent shadows

Where rooms with life once rang.

Whither vanished, Oh dear denizens of old?

And why, thus, am I so cruelly forsaken?

                                        - Edward Ashley Lamb

OCCUPYYOURFORECLOSURE.COM
OCCUPYYOURFORECLOSURE.COM

OCCUPYYOURFORECLOSURE.COM   -   A PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE FOR OWNERS IN FORECLOSURE. THIS IS A WAY TO FIGHT BACK AND FIGHT HARD,

Not a New Yorker
Not a New Yorker

They should be arrested. Breaking and entering, burglary and felony damage to private property are all still crimes, aren't they? 

Or is it only pinko commie people of a certain set of shades of color get to simply take homes without paying for them.

Hmmmm.....which New Yorker is going to have the balls to get these punks arrested?

Loveandight
Loveandight

definitely not a New Yorker.  A despicable post.  A shame you wasted your time and breath on such hatred for humanity.  Bless you.

Scott
Scott

Ever notice how the Wall Street crimes go unpunished while protestors....i.e. those pointing out the problem get arrested for pointing it out ?  Ever notice that killing someone is called murder but killing 100s of thousands is simply called foreign policy ? Ever notice how if you rob a bank it's called a crime but if a bank robs you blind it's just called business ? We need a more just society ! We need massive policy reform. You can call me an idealist but I am not a communist or socialist. I am a successful patriotic small business owner who cares about the well being of my fellow citizens or as Jesus called them, our brothers and sisters. I believe we can create a better and more just world. This does not mean giving people a free ride but as you may be aware, people who could hold onto their houses if the banks just gave them a little bit of a break are not being given a chance. Perhaps a little more humanity, dignity and justice could become part of a new way of doing business in America.

Kendall Jackman
Kendall Jackman

As the person who gave the teach-in on Intro 48, Intro 248 is a poor copy cat of our bill.  Intro 248 would only count vacant City owned lots, many of which are classified as parks to hide them.  Our bill would count (and we have in 20 community boards) ALL VACANT PROPERTY -  BUILDINGS AND LOTS, CITY AND PRIVATELY OWNED.  I wish all of you would stop comparing that other bill to ours, there is no comparison.

Michelle D. Anderson
Michelle D. Anderson

Thanks for your comment, Kendall. If you want to talk more about Intro 48, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at manderson@villagevoice.com

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