With some of its urban encampments closed by police and others under siege, the Occupy movement says it’s opening a new front in its battle against big banks by moving poor people into empty, bank-owned foreclosed homes.
The group staged what it termed “a national day of action” Tuesday to fight fraudulent lending practices and “illegal evictions by banks” — the institutions Occupiers blame for the nation’s economic predicament.
The group said its Occupy Our Homes effort also would try to disrupt auctions at which foreclosed properties are sold.
A boisterous but peaceful crowd of more than 500 marched through the mostly black and Hispanic East New York section of Brooklyn on Tuesday, stopping at some of the area’s vacant houses to demand an end to foreclosures. Chanting “Predatory lenders — criminal offenders!” the marchers wound up outside an abandoned home that they began to fix up for the family of Tasha Glasgow.
Glasgow, 30, said she has been living with her boyfriend and their two children in an apartment in an abandoned house in Queens’ Far Rockaway section. She said the unit has no oven, and when she turns on the water in the bathroom, it floods the apartment downstairs.
“I just want some place where we can live better,” she said.
Such occupations of foreclosed homes constitute trespassing, because the bank owns a property once the homeowner defaults on the mortgage.
“Some people say this is illegal,” Patricia Malcolm, one of the march leaders, told the crowd outside the house at 702 Vermont St. “But let me ask you: How legal was it to take us out of our homes?”
Matthew Smucker of Occupy Wall Street also defended the move: “Peaceful civil disobedience is a proud American tradition in the face of large injustice. … The illegal behavior to be looking at is the illegal foreclosures by banks.”
Conservative online publisher and commentator Andrew Breitbart said the movement’s new focus demonstrates that Occupy Wall Street is not “an authentic grass-roots movement” but a political maneuver backed by organized labor and remnants of the ACORN community-organizing group aimed at boosting President Obama’s re-election campaign.
“This is AstroTurf” rather than grass roots, he said. “This isn’t about helping little old ladies. … This is about fomenting civil unrest, fomenting class warfare.”
Asked why she felt entitled to live in the house, Glasgow said, “There are a lot of homeless people in the country and all these empty apartments that they could be living in. … All these people out on the street or living in their cars — they could be inside. ”
She said she was worried about being evicted, but said, “I have people who have my back. I’m doing this for a good reason — for my kids.” She referred to her daughter, Tanisha, 9, who she said is autistic, and son Alfredo, 5.
Sean Barry of the community group VOCAL-NY said it would work with Glasgow’s boyfriend, Alfredo Carrasquillo, to fix up the home. He said the move was encouraged by neighbors, who have seen the home stripped and vandalized. “It’s destabilizing the neighborhood,” he said.
A neighbor, James Damon, said he was glad to see the Occupiers. The two-story house had been vacant for several years, he said, since the owner walked away.
Barry said the mortgage was held by Bank of America, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Ydanis Rodriguez, a New York City Council member who was jailed last month when police broke up the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the Financial District, said the home occupation was good for the movement, which has been criticized in New York for a lack of racial diversity.
“Probably getting evicted from the park was the best thing that could have happened,” he said, “because now this movement is getting more color.”
Occupy Wall Street said there would be similar occupations in other communities. In Los Angeles, for instance, activists say they’ll occupy at least two homes. There also were occupations Tuesday in Atlanta, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.
Contributing: William M. Welch