"We gotta beat back the bank attack!" chanted homeowner Janie Mair and her supporters from SAFE (Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction) this evening, outside the Bank of America branch on Beacon Hill. Leading that chant through a megaphone in the freezing cold? City council member Kshama Sawant.
Mair was a human rights journalist in China (some of her friends died in the Tiananmen Square uprising), according to SAFE organizer Josh Farris. She emigrated here, but when Mair was injured, her mother fell ill, and the recession hit, she began falling behind mortgage payments, Farris explains. Due to SAFE's protests, Wells Fargo has delayed the auction of her home, but Bank of America is trying to foreclose on Mair's sister's Beacon Hill home and refuses to negotiate with the family, he says.
You'll recall that another South Seattle homeowner, Jeremy Griffin, faced foreclosure at the hands of Wells Fargo this summer. Sawant was arrested on the property along with several others when the King County Sheriff came to evict him.
"We really respect Kshama because she got arrested with us defending Jeremy's house, which has had a really good impact on Jane's negotiations with Wells Fargo," says Farris. "She's obviously leading the way, by showing how little leadership we've seen from the other representatives."
As I asked Sawant whether she supports SAFE's call for a moratorium on evictions, she was already nodding and saying yes. She's interested in organizing a forum that brings together people concerned about the minimum wage, wage theft, and fair housing—working class issues in Seattle—she added.
And she mentioned good work that City council member Nick Licata has done on the issue of foreclosures. Licata has promised to introduce legislation to give large-scale relief to struggling Seattle homeowners early next year. In October, he stood next to Mair at a press conference and said: "We need to basically recognize that what banks are doing to citizens like Jane here is really criminal activity. They are leading citizens into entrapment without proper information, and then by their own design, leading them on, and then ending up owning their homes. That has to be stopped."
Bank of America's malfeasance when it comes to foreclosures has been well documented—one whistleblower even alleged that its employees received bonuses for stonewalling and evicting homeowners seeking to negotiate mortgage payments.
This week, the Los Angeles city attorney is suing the bank for "mortgage discrimination it claims led to a wave of foreclosures that cost the city a fortune in extra expenses and lost taxes."