Forced out of work by five heart attacks and three rotator cuff injuries, Bobby Hull, a marine who served during the Vietnam era, had struggled to make his mortgage payments, and until recently, was resigned to losing the Minneapolis home that has stayed in his family for 43 years.
But the efforts of the city's Occupy movement, Occupy Minneapolis, and local like-minded advocacy groups has infused the construction worker with new hope.
"It's been a big relief," says the former Marine, who since retiring from the military has made his living as a mason and plasterer. "I'm not trying to have false hope. But I'm hopeful."
Starting today, Occupy Minneapolis, in coordination with a local housing advocacy group, expects to launch an extended sit-in to protest Hull's eviction. They plan to pitch tents, erect protest banners and transform the home into a "community hub," as they await his planned February eviction, which they've vowed to resist.
The protest coincides with a nationwide anti-foreclosure offensive scheduled to kick off tomorrow. Signaling a shift in tactics amid the removal of protesters from public spaces around the country, Occupy movements in many cities are planning similar sit-ins at the homes of beleaguered homeowners. In fact, today marks the official launch of Occupy Our Homes, an anti-foreclosure campaign, which according to Salon, is expected to happen in 20 cities.
The protest effort at Hull's home offers a window into the mechanics of this new tactic, which often appear to grow out of cross-pollination between seasoned advocacy groups and Occupy protestors.
"We've developed a model that I hope will become a national model for how this works," says Anthony Newby, an organizer for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, which facilitated the sit-in. "We want to identify homeowners who are going to foreclosure, and then we just leverage the momentum of Occupy to create community support for people in crisis."
Nick Espinosa, an organizer for Occupy Minneapolis, along with his fellow protesters, originally learned of Hull's situation after canvassing with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, according to the housing group's executive director, Steve Fletcher. At Espinosa's request, Fletcher gave the protesters a crash course on canvassing so that they could reach out to foreclosure victims in a professional manner. After the training, Occupy protesters and members of the housing group used a list of locals facing eviction -- compiled by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change -- to track down struggling homeowners that were open to their support. That's how they found Hull.
Espinosa said Neighborhoods Organizing for Change has been an "incredible help in helping us to learn more what [protest of foreclosures] "looks like."
Previously, Occupy Minneapolis had staged a short-lived occupation at another foreclosed home; it ended in arrests. In that case, Occupy protesters themselves discovered the homeowner, says Fletcher, after she showed up in Hennepin County Government Plaza to share her story. Regardless of what have inspired the three protests, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change members have participated with Occupy Minneapolis in all of them.
Occupying foreclosed homes appears to be one of the most effective ways for the movement to adapt in the face of such crackdowns, says Espinosa.
"It does seem like this is the direction of where a lot of this energy is going," Espinosa says. "It's a way to bring the fight from Wall Street onto Main Street ... to really get neighborhoods in a tangible way where they see what we have to offer them."
For the extended sit-in at Hull's home, protesters will set up tents and transform the house into a "community hub," where protesters will hold meetings and enlist the support of neighbors.
Espinosa says protesters will encourage community members to sign a pledge to resist Hull's eviction, support a moratorium on foreclosures and defy their own possible evictions.
Hull, who served as a demolitions instructor during the Vietnam era, has lived in his home since 1968, when his mother purchased it. The title later was transferred to him, and he eventually paid off the loan.
But about four years ago he took out a $250,000 loan on the home to start a contracting business. Shortly thereafter, he suffered five heart attacks and three rotator cuff injuries. With no steady paycheck, he tried for two years to negotiate a loan modification with Bank of America.
But that didn't happen, and in an event that speaks volumes about the housing bust's devastating impact on real estate values around the country, Hull's lifelong home sold at auction for a mere $83,700, nearly $200,000 less than what he owed on it.
"I should be able to be back to work by February," he said. "If they had just postponed it, I could be back to work."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described Hull as a Vietnam veteran. He did not serve in Vietnam but as a demolitions instructor during the Vietnam era.
Vet Facing Eviction Inspires Occupy Movement's New Effort
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +32%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 2,273
% home value down from peak: -12.42%
Columbus hit its median home value peak in the first quarter of 2006. Since that time, home values have declined a relatively modest 12.4%, including a 3.4% drop last year. By the second quarter of 2012, Fiserv projects that homes in the area will lose another 2.3% of their value. Median family income in Columbus is above the national average, and unemployment is just 8%, a full percentage point less than the national average. Despite the fact that things don’t look so bad for the Columbus housing market compared to other regions, the city foreclosure rate still increased by 32% last quarter. A total of 2,273 homes were foreclosed upon during that time.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +35%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,743
% home value down from peak: -59.3%
There is arguably no single housing market with a worse long-term outlook than southwest Florida, and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers region is the worst of these. Housing prices in the have already dropped 59.3% from their peak, and Fiserv project them to decline another 12.2% by the second quarter of next year. According to Corelogic, 47% of the homes in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area are worth less than their mortgages because of declining values. Foreclosures have increased 35% in the last quarter, and with no sign of recovery in the immediate future that trend may worsen in the coming months.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +36%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,348
% home value down from peak: -59.1%
As of last month, Vallejo-Fairfield had the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, with one out of every 51 homes being foreclosed upon in the third quarter of this year. This was a 36% increase in foreclosures from the second quarter. Home values have dropped 7.5% in the past year and are projected by Fiserv to drop an additional 4.9% by the second quarter of 2012. A remarkable 53% of homes in the region are worth less than their mortgages. This is the seventh highest rate of homes with underwater mortgages in the country.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +41%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 2,174
% home value down from peak: -54%
Fresno’s economy has continued to suffer since housing prices began to drop in 2006. It currently has an unemployment rate of 14.9%, which is one of the highest in the country. Home prices peaked in the first quarter of 2006 and have been decreasing since. The metropolitan area also has one of the highest underwater mortgage rates in the country, with a negative equity share of nearly 46%. In the last year alone home prices have dropped 11%.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +44%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,039
% home value down from peak: -53.4%
More than 1,000 homes were foreclosed upon in the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville region last quarter, a 44% increase from the previous three-month period. Nearly half of the region’s homes are worth less than their mortgages. With Fiserv projecting home values would drop 7.1% by next year and another 4.9% the year after that, things may just get even worse.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +49%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 2,559
% home value down from peak: -39.3%
Jacksonville has experienced a quarterly increase in foreclosures of nearly 50%. Home prices have dropped 39.1% since their peak in the second quarter of 2006. The metropolitan area’s negative equity share also exceeds 46%, making it among the worst in the country for underwater mortgages. Home prices are expected to decrease another 10.7% by the second quarter of 2012.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +55%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,956
% home value down from peak: -15.9%
Nearly 2,000 homes were foreclosed upon during the last quarter, a 55% increase from the previous three months. Unlike many of the regions on this list with accelerating home foreclures, Cincinnati’s local economy is doing fairly well. Home prices are only down 15.9% from their peak in the first quarter of 2006. Unemployment and median family income are both better than average. One possible explanation for this recent increase may be that nearly a third of the total decline in home value since the peak has occurred in the past 12 months.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +57%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,673
% home value down from peak: -51.4%
The Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice metropolitan area has seen the third largest increase in the country in foreclosures in the third quarter. However, only 1,673 homes out of the 311,475 on the market were foreclosed upon. The housing market has suffered a great deal since housing prices peaked in the first quarter of 2006. Since then, overall home prices have dropped 51.4%.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +67%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 2,003
% home value down from peak: -15.8%
The Boston metropolitan area is considered to have a particularly resilient housing market. In the most recent quarter, however, foreclosures have increased 67%. Home prices have only dropped 15.8% since they peaked in the third quarter of 2005. The national average is -32.3%. From the second quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011, home prices dropped a mere 1.7%.
Quarterly increase in foreclosures: +151%
# of Foreclosures Q3 2011: 1,358
% home value down from peak: -14.9%
Albuquerque’s housing market, like Boston’s, is relatively healthy. While home prices decreased 32.3% nationally after their peak, home prices in Albuquerque only decreased 14.9% since they peaked. Regardless, foreclosures have recently skyrocketed. In the third quarter of 2011, the number of foreclosures in Albuquerque increased 151%. According to New Mexico Business Weekly, the lack of job creation in the area has been a major contributor to this problem.