By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Before any papers were signed, Occupy held a block-party celebration. At that party, six more homeowners facing eviction felt empowered to speak out and pledge to stay in their homes. They included John Vinje, a veteran and security guard from Bloomington, a union laborer named Frank Clark, and a north Minneapolis church and civic leader named Ruby Brown. Bobby Hull's fight and victory had planted a seed, and the Occupy Homes movement was growing.
"These individual cases were inspiring people to stand up," says Espinosa, "and hopefully build a mass movement across the country of people doing this."
Among the new crop of homeowners empowered to speak out that night at Hull's house was Espinosa's own mother, Colleen McKee Espinosa, a nurse and single mom who had received a sheriff's sale notice from Citibank informing her that she could lose her north Minneapolis home in June.
"Seeing these homeowners going through the same thing, that's when my mentality shifted where it was more, maybe the banks should be ashamed rather than the people that they're taking advantage of," McKee Espinosa says. "I decided that I'm not leaving my home until we get a good-faith negotiation. I'm fighting to send the message to other people not to give up, because if you're isolated you can't fight these people. The banks had better watch out because people are catching on to their game and a lot of people are going to fight back now."
Following Hull's victory, Occupy went to bat for McKee Espinosa and five homeowners battling Bank of America to keep their houses. No more than a day before the sheriff's sale, McKee Espinosa receive a deal from Citibank to stay in her home.
Meanwhile, Occupy unveiled a video campaign supporting the "Minnesota five." Within 48 hours, a "customer relationship manager" from Bank of America's social-media department called union worker Frank Clark and his wife, Kristina Darrington, who were struggling to keep their home in the northern suburb of Coon Rapids, and offered to help fix their loan.
It appeared that Bank of America, conscious of losing the public-relations war, had created the social-media team — what the bank calls its "customer-related escalation group."
"It wasn't an attorney, it wasn't a loss mitigation specialist, it wasn't a collection agent, it wasn't a mortgage broker, it wasn't even an executive — it was a social-media liaison," says Occupy organizer Anthony Newby. "They're paying very close attention to this public narrative. What they haven't figured out is how to combat it, how to effectively neutralize what's becoming an outcry of public opinion around the country."
Clark and Darrington kept their home thanks to Occupy's public campaign, as did two other members of the "Minnesota five" — north Minneapolis resident Ruby Brown and St. Paul attorney Paul Lelii.
By the end of February, Bank of America had given Hull a loan modification. But Monique White's forecast wasn't improving at all, as US Bank — the original servicer of the loan — refused to budge, instead deflecting responsibility to lender Freddie Mac, which currently owned the mortgage.
Occupy Homes mounted sporadic protests at US Bank offices throughout Minneapolis, which occasionally led to arrests. Then an eviction notice from Hennepin County arrived in White's mailbox, informing her that she could be evicted by March 2.
Into the breach stepped the National Lawyers Guild, which represented White pro bono and won four consecutive cases in housing court to stall an eviction. Her defense team hoped to move the case out of housing court and into district court, where White would get a jury trial.
"We want the facts to be decided by Monique's peers," says Lawyers Guild attorney Rachel Lang. "Not necessarily by people who are in a privileged situation and who have a very different cultural background, and a very different amount of power."
Meanwhile, back in north Minneapolis, nervous Occupy activists were certain that a police raid was imminent if a deal wasn't worked out in court, and they prepared to physically protect White's house — and face certain arrest.
"The amount of energy that Freddie Mac and US Bank were putting into this eviction for a house that literally was worth about $35,000, according to our own comparative market analysis that our realtor did," begins Newby. "The amount of money that they must have spent to pursue this eviction was certainly tens of thousands of dollars, and my guess is that it far exceeded the actual value of the home. They would expend any amount of resources to get this person out of this house so that Occupy Homes couldn't claim victory in what had become at that point a national and an international case."
Neither the jury trial nor the police raid ever materialized. Instead, with the help of Occupy and Minnesotans United for a Fair Economy, White purchased a tiny share in US Bank and snuck into the shareholders meeting on April 17 to confront CEO Richard Davis, who ultimately helped her with a loan modification after US Bank claimed for months that only Freddie Mac could do that.
Occupy Homes took on a new and greater challenge in late April when it began defending the Cruz house in south Minneapolis.