Prabal Chakrabarti, the director of community affairs at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, calls it a triple win. “The bank does well because it is able to recover the market value of the property more quickly,” he says. “The borrower does well because they get to stay in their home and avoid a forced move, which can be very hard on children. And the neighborhood does well because they don’t have a vacant or deteriorating property that is badly boarded up and could be a magnet for crime or bring down neighboring property values.”
The Home Affordable Modification Program was supposed to act like a federal version of City Life, calling for reducing the principal on mortgages that are for more than a house is currently worth. But the truth is that banks almost never do it. They worry that following the government’s recommendations would simply give deals to some homeowners who would have otherwise stuck it out — and even encourage people to default on loans just so they can get a reduction.
But while the government isn’t willing to force the issue, City Life has stepped up. In late September, City Life members were among the 3,000 people who protested in front of the Boston office of Bank of America, demanding principal write-downs. “Our view at City Life,” Steve Meacham says, “is that if you want the government to take action against such powerful actors, then you better have a powerful movement on the street, because they are not going to do it otherwise. And that’s what we’re trying to build.”
BACK AT DRUSILLA FRANCIS’S HOME in Dorchester, City Life continues its protest throughout the hot morning. Down the block, meanwhile, an intense legal debate is taking place. Lee Goldstein, a lawyer from Harvard Legal Aid, has demanded to see the 48-hour eviction notice — a judge-signed document authorizing the eviction. Constable Burton Malkofsky doesn’t have it, though, insisting that all he actually needs is the court order to evict. Whipping out his smartphone, Goldstein begins quoting Massachusetts law. Malkofsky decides to make a few calls to locate the disputed paperwork. As all of this is going on, the police inform the two men that, given the size of the protest in front of the house, they don’t have the manpower just then to enforce an eviction, anyway. The action is postponed.
Melonie Griffiths races to the steps of Francis’s house and raises a bullhorn to her lips. “That’s right,” Griffiths hollers, echoing the crowd’s steady chants, “the banks get bailed out and we get moved out! But not all the time. Not if you fight back.” When she announces that the police have called off the eviction, the crowd erupts in cheers. They have saved Francis’s house — at least for today.
The next day, the protestors return in case the constable comes back. He never shows. Later that day, U.S. Bank, which hasn’t been willing to sell the property to BCC, finally names its price. BCC accepts: They’ll buy back the home for $210,000 and sell it to Drusilla Francis and Sandra Douglas, her new roommate she’s met through City Life, for $294,000. In early October, Francis, Douglas, and BCC closed on the property. After 22 years of living in her home, Francis will be able to stay.
Even before she got the official news, Francis had a good feeling. “They said the constable might be back the next day, but after that blockade, something inside me told me that I wasn’t leaving this house,” she says. “I knew we had won.”
After the crowd has cleared and the street is quiet, she grabs a bag of her belongings from her car. She carries it upstairs. By the time the day is over, everything is back where it belongs.