Last year, Melecio and Beatriz Delgado applied for a loan modification for their modest single-family house on the northwest side of Chicago. At the time, CitiBank and a number of other big banks were under pressure from the Obama administration to offer quick modifications. The Delgados agreed to a loan package and made their new monthly payments religiously every month, about $100 less per month than the old payments.
CitiBank cashed the checks for seven straight months, but on the eighth month the family received a surprise. CitiBank refused to accept their payments and decided to foreclose on their home after nine years of receiving full, on-time payments from the family. After many months of getting the run-around through the mail and never actually getting to talk to a real human being at CitiBank the Delgados, shocked and frustrated from a year of neglect, came to the Centro Autónomo de Albany Park for assistance.
During housing meetings at the Centro Autónomo, held every first Thursday and third Saturday of the month, friends and neighbors decided to organize a protest at the local CitiBank branch on Milwaukee and California to demand attention to the Delgado’s case. The night before the action, community members in English classes at the Centro Autónomo created signs for the protest – this would truly be a community effort.
The next day, community members distributed the Delgado family’s demands to people passing by CitiBank: halt the foreclosure and respect the loan modification. As the protesters proclaimed, “banks got bailed out, people got sold out,” and “homes for people, not for banks” to passing drivers who demonstrated support by honking horns and pumping fists.
After twenty-five minutes, Beatriz, Melecio and their daughters entered Citibank, hoping for the first time to be able to present their case to a real flesh and blood human. Instead, the well-trained CitiBank branch directors offered only the phone number of the bank’s Public Relations Department. The Delgados left the bank slightly disheartened, yet determined to continue fighting for their home.
Five minutes later the Chicago Police Department, apparently under instruction from Citibank, arrested one of the Delgado’s allies for allegedly trespassing. The ally was released from custody seven hours later and is fighting the bogus charge meant to dissuade similar actions by community groups. Not coincidentally, the next day Citibank called Melecio to apologize and offer a new loan modification. They have yet to see the details, but the Delgados are optimistic.
While we at the Centro Autónomo de Albany Park savor this potential victory, we also remain focused on the larger picture and continue to fight for housing as a human right! In our neighborhood, one of every fifteen houses in foreclosure, and as many as one in seven is in danger of foreclosure in the coming year. As Melecio stated very clearly, “I am going to fight. I will go as far as I need to go and I will fight until the end.” We must keep the pressure on banks and the government with anti-eviction defenses, occupation of vacant homes, and defense of renters who are often tricked and lied to throughout the foreclosure process. Working together as communities united, we can force abusive banks to back off.
Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction is a member organization of various communities in and around Chicago who fight to keep people in their homes, and to claim land for people who are homeless. We have chapters in Albany Park,Austin, Belmont Cragin, Rogers Park, and Logan Square.
[Photo By respres]