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Occupy Movement Targets Home Evictions in U.S. Day of Action

Occupy Wall Street protesters marched through a neighborhood of New York’s Brooklyn borough to claim a foreclosed property for a local family as part of a nationwide day of demonstrations against home seizures.

Behind a banner that said “Foreclose on banks, not people,” about 300 people made their way to a house on Vermont Street in Brooklyn’s East New York section, where Alfredo Carrasquillo plans to live with his wife, Tasha Glasgow, and their two children. The property had been vacant for three years and is owned by Bank of America Corp., according to a statement by Occupy Wall Street.

The East New York neighborhood had the highest foreclosure rate in New York City last year, with 16.8 per 1,000 homes receiving filings, according to a city comptroller’s office analysis of data from RealtyTrac Inc. Similar demonstrations were scheduled at more than 20 American cities as the Occupy movement turned its attention to the U.S. housing crisis.

“There’s growing discontent with the way the foreclosure process is working, and this is a very dramatic way of calling attention to it,” Peter Marcuse, professor emeritus of urban planning at Columbia University in New York, said yesterday.

More than 4 million homes in the U.S. have been taken over by banks since 2006, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate data firm in Irvine, California.

Show of Support

In Brooklyn, demonstrators made several stops before arriving at the Vermont Street home, tearing away the yellow tape that blocked the entrance to one vacant property. On the front of a boarded-up house at 399 Pennsylvania Ave., a sign said “First-time homebuyers, $1,000 down.” As the group passed Thomas Jefferson High School, people waved from windows in support.

Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY, and his family were at the Vermont Street house when the marchers arrived. The crowd passed “housewarming gifts” to the family as volunteers began cleaning the house.

Gail Miller, a retired social worker, said she joined the march to bring attention to policies that are “bailing out banks, not people.”

“I have a home, I have a family, and I believe that having a home and having a family ought to be a right for everybody,” said Miller, a 70-year-old grandmother of nine who was born in Brooklyn and lives in Manhattan.

Blankfein’s Home

East New York suffered disproportionately during the housing crisis because its black and Latino communities were targeted by predatory subprime lenders, according to the statement from the Occupy group. East New York natives include composers George and Ira Gershwin and Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., who grew up in a public-housing project in the neighborhood.

The Occupy Our Homes day of action comes almost a month after Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, the birthplace of the movement, where protesters camped for about two months.

In the Los Angeles area, demonstrators from several community groups marched toward a house in South Gate where Ana Casas Wilson lives with her mother, her husband and their 17-year-old son. Wilson, who has cerebral palsy, and her family are refusing to leave the three-bedroom home while Wells Fargo & Co., which owns the mortgage, moves to evict them.

‘Don’t Give Up’

“My daughter tells me, don’t give up, Mom,” Becky Casas, 72, said in an interview. “I pray, pray, pray. I have faith that he’ll help us,” she said, pointing her thumb toward the sky, while a protester fastened a poster reading “Reclaiming our houses” to the porch.

A representative with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment yelled a phone number into a microphone. She said it belonged to Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf, and urged everyone with a cellphone to call. “It’s busy!” some in the crowd shouted back.

Jason Menke, a spokesman for Wells Fargo in Des Moines, Iowa, said the Wilsons were reviewed for payment assistance “multiple times and offered two separate modification options prior to their foreclosure sale in July 2009. After the sale, we reviewed the loan again and could not find an affordable option.”

‘I’ll Go to Jail’

As the crowd cheered outside the home, Ana Casas Wilson said, “One person asked me what I would do if I had to go to jail. Well, then, I’ll go to jail.” Demonstrators responded with “We won’t let that happen, Ana.”

Los Angeles County, where South Gate is located, led California in foreclosure filings in October, with 11,498, RealtyTrac data show.

The Occupy protesters were backed by housing advocacy organizations including Take Back the Land, a Washington-based group that fights homeowner evictions.

Max Rameau, co-founder of the five-year-old organization, which helped plan today’s events, said energy from Occupy Wall Street is giving groups like his a push and is likely to result in many more actions.

“By the spring, you’ll be surprised by the amount of organizations doing this,” Rameau said in an interview yesterday.

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