Us Politics & Economy

Foreclosed and Evicted in Oakland

By David Bacon

Three weeks ago, ten Alameda County deputy sheriffs poured through the gate of a tan house on the corner of Tenth and Willow streets in West Oakland, the oldest African American neighborhood in the city. Tosha Alberty had just left for her job as a transportation services coordinator for Alameda County. Her children were still at home, however. All of them were hustled through the front door, down the steep steps, and out onto the sidewalk.

A locksmith drilled out the door locks so the family couldn’t get back in. Other workers nailed sheets of plywood over every window. A new steel padlock was fastened to the gate.

Alberty had lived in the home with four children and two grandchildren for four years. She grew up in the neighborhood, and had been house hunting for a long time when she found the place in 2005. Although unemployed, her mother had left her a little money, and a real estate broker pushed her into a nonconforming loan with no down payment, with First Franklin Mortgage Services.

“I thought I’d be paying $2,800 a month,” she recalls, “but the payment was much more.” Alberty got a union job with the county, barely making it. But then the monthly installments ballooned to close to $5,000. “When I tried to renegotiate them,” she says, “they said that since I’d been paying before, they wouldn’t help me.” The loan went into default.

Despite promises that huge bank bailouts would keep people in their homes, they gave no help to people like Alberty. But they did make some people rich.

First Franklin’s Web site offered “flexible, hassle-free home loan solutions” to mortgage brokers. Merrill Lynch bought the lender in 2006, and was then itself bought for $50 billion by Bank of America. Last week Bank of America reported second-quarter profits of $2.4 billion, its second straight profitable quarter since the mortgage crisis started. The bank received $45 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and spent $2.3 million in the first half of 2008 on lobbying Congress and another $1.5 million this year.

Last week, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reported that Bank of America paid $3.3 billion in bonuses to its executives, 172 of whom received more than $1 million apiece. Merrill Lynch, which lost $27 billion in 2008, paid $3.6 billion in bonuses—696 execs received more than $1 million, and 14 got more than $10 million.

None of that money went to the Alberty’s. Instead, First Franklin’s “hassle-free solution” became Tosha Albertys eviction. So she found a better solution. She joined ACORN’s Home Defender campaign. Twice in May the sheriffs met a resolute group determined to keep her from being evicted, finally swooping down without warning July 20, just after she’d left for work.

Last week, a group sat in on the steps of her house in an act of civil disobedience and were arrested by the Oakland police. ACORN Home Defender Martha Daniels vows, “We will find a way to put Tosha and her family back into this house.” City Council members and a county supervisor support them.

Protecting people’s right to stay in their homes will produce a healthier community. Throwing billions at the banks trying to evict them will not. “There’s something wrong with this country,” says Alberty’s father, Charles Alberty. “My daughter just needed a house for her family.”

David Bacon is a Bay Area writer and photographer whose latest book is Illegal People—How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants., August 7, 2009