Take Back the Land battles foreclosure crisis

Members of Take Back the Land, a national movement focused on assisting citizens they believe were unjustly evicted from their homes, spoke in the Multicultural Organization Space for Activities, Inclusion and Collaboration on Monday Nov. 14.

Coordinator of Multicultural Programs Fatima Rodriguez Johnson organized the event after senior Lauren Fox heard the speakers in a class with professor Beth McCoy. Fox recommended speakers Ryan Acuff, Katherine Denison and Catherine Lennon to Johnson.

Lennon was evicted from her Rochester, N.Y. home on March 28, 2010. After her husband died without a will, Lennon and her family had trouble with the mortgage payments.

"I am a living witness to everything that's going on," Lennon said.

A SWAT team arrived at Lennon's house on the day of eviction, arresting seven people and forcing the family from their home.

Take Back the Land Rochester came to Lennon's aid, helping her with the court case and reinstating her in her home on May 8, 2010.

"I can't describe with words … how much these people have helped me," Lennon said.

Lennon has a second court date with the New York State Supreme Court in December. Lennon's case is one of many with which Take Back the Land is helping.

"These stories, they're individual stories … they show people can fight back and win," Acuff said.

"We're building off of this international movement … where people, out of necessity to survive, have to take back their land," he said. "There's been a massive displacement of people."

According to Acuff, nearly one-sixth of people in the world are "squatters."

"People are being put out in mass," he said. "Homelessness is increasing exponentially," yet the banks are receiving trillions of dollars in bailout money.

Take Back the Land campaign advocates that "housing is a human right." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, is "nothing but a piece of paper unless we enact it," Acuff said.

"This fight, I feel like I have a purpose in it," Lennon said.

According to Denison, Lennon has been called the "Rosa Parks of the foreclosure crisis."

Many people have found themselves facing eviction with little to no reason, Denison said. There are stories of people who have never missed payments or who paid for their house entirely up front that were evicted.

According to Acuff, part of the cause of the crisis derives from "robo-signing," in which a bank hires staff to fraudulently sign documents and affidavits without verifying the information.

"People of all classes and backgrounds are suddenly finding themselves without protection," Denison said. "We're all at risk."

The foreclosure crisis has received more attention since the Amherst, N.Y.-based lawyer Steven J. Baum was barred from handling any new foreclosure or bankruptcy cases. According to Buffalo News, "Baum currently handles 40 percent of all mortgage foreclosure work statewide."

Baum's firm has been criticized for robo-signing and sloppy paperwork.

Take Back the Land Rochester is working with Occupy Rochester and Band of Rebels, a group of veteran activists. They've protested outside of Wells Fargo as "a caution to the bank," Denison said. "We will be resisting."