A number of Chicago residents spent the week tirelessly protesting Bank of America for the plethora of abandoned foreclosed properties that are blighting neighborhoods across the city and state.
The group of Action Now members were joined by other organizations supporting their fight throughout the week. Fifty-two year old Marsha Godard, who held a Bank of America account, was arrested when she tried to speak with the financial institution's officers about the impact abandoned foreclosed homes are having in the city's communities.
"How can my own bank arrest me for trying to speak to them about vacant properties that are in my neighborhood and all over the city of Chicago," asked Godard. "Bank of America is not only ruining the lives of homeowners, the safety of communities and America's economy, they are now arresting people like me that question their destructive actions."
After being released on bail Tuesday, hours after her arrest, and Godard returned to the bank for next two days in attempts to close her account along with other Chicago residents fed up with the foreclosed homes that are bringing down their communities. Today, according to Action Now Communications Director Aileen Kelleher, Godard and others were finally able to close their accounts. To close out their week of action, Kelleher says the group broke up into ten units that each rallied at a different Bank of America location where they got petitions signed and even convinced some people to close their accounts before the group converged upon the main downtown branch en masse one last time.
"We found that there's a lot of support for what we were doing," Kelleher told Progress Illinois. "We knew we had the support of people in our neighborhoods, but people downtown, who were driving around in their cars and from other organizations really showed how unified Chicago is on this issue. So all it takes is organizing people together to make a bigger impact. Now we'll see what Bank of America does about these properties. It's a series of smaller steps that, hopefully, leads to something bigger."
Two weeks ago, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance (PDF) unanimously that will force financial institutions to take responsibility for the upkeep of properties as they go through the foreclosure process, which averages around 490 days in Chicago.
"When vacant buildings are left to deteriorate, local property values tumble and criminality gains an entry into the neighborhood," Aderman Pat Dowell (3rd), who introduced the ordinance, said in a statement. "The landmark piece of legislation passed today will hold banks responsible for the upkeep of vacant properties, keeping them secure and keeping neighborhoods intact."
But banks appear to be poised to fight the ordinance, arguing that the legalities of the ordinance appear to the weak, which helped fuel this week's action against Bank of America. From the Huffington Post:
"We question the constitutionality of holding a secured lender or a servicer as liable for maintaining that property," said Linda Koch, president and CEO of the Illinois Bankers Association, an industry lobbying group.
Koch said that, until foreclosure is completed, banks can’t legally be considered owners of the property.
"You can’t just make a secured lender an owner because there’s a word changed in the law,” she said. "The only way that we are and should be responsible is if we are the actual owner and have the title to the property."
Both aldermen and activists appear to be ready to fight against any legal battles the banks may throw their way in regards to the ordinance, which has captured the attention of state legislators like Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood), who told the HuffingtonPost that "we might need a statewide bill." Meanwhile, residents intend on keeping up the pressure.
"The bigger message is that they've caused all of this destruction and no one's holding them accountable," said Kelleher. "In fact, they're making more profit. But we're starting to see with Bank of America and their stock dropping by 20 percent that what happens on Main Street is affecting Wall Street. We're going to continue fighting. Bank of America isn't the only bank doing this, so the fight is going to continue in terms of getting the vacant property ordinance to be completely enforced when it goes into effect."
Images courtesy of Action Now