Longtime Germantown resident Rhonda Lancaster, who has been fighting to stay in her family home since a 2009 reverse mortgage led to an eviction notice in July, has joined with Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein to call her struggle a “national litmus test [for] changing the way business is done in America.”
On Wednesday, Lancaster and Stein joined Green Party Vice Presidential nominee Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and several community activists for an anti-foreclosure “Occupy Fannie Mae” protest at 1835 Market St., where the government-sponsored enterprise‘s northeast regional headquarters is located.
In addition to the trio, speakers included Sister Margaret McKenna, a founding member of North Philadelphia’s New Jerusalem Laura addiction recovery program; labor leader Jim Moran; and ADAPT advocate German Parodi, who urged accessible and affordable housing for disabled people.
Lancaster’s story told
An estimated 50 people attended the protest, which resulted in the arrests of Stein, Honkala, Moran, McKenna and another protestor when they entered the building through an adjacent bank.
“The bottom line is, when you don’t know how the process works, you’re swatting in the dark at flies,” Lancaster said to the crowd on the importance of borrowers reading banks’ fine print.
“Sometimes, it is something as simple as a paragraph that is causing people to lose their homes, and they don’t know it because it is muddled in so much legal jargon,” she continued. “If you don’t understand the terms of the deal, you are at a loss.”
Pointing to the high number of people living on the street despite approximately 40,000 vacant homes in the city, Moran declared, “There’s something wrong with that.”
Honkala, a local activist, rallies the troops
“You guys know how to form a picket line, right?” Honkala shouted, leading the diverse crowd to march chanting in a large circle in front of the building’s doors, brandishing hand-lettered signs advocating a halt to foreclosures.
The crowd paused to hear from a woman who would only identify herself only as “Miss Fran.” She told a story similar to Lancaster’s. Miss Fran was recently evicted from her home in Logan through a mortgage with Chase Bank.
“They told me I need $150,000 to settle a $30,000 loan,” she said, claiming that after the sheriff’s sale, the house listed online as being worth $42,000. “They have spent more money fighting me to take my property away than the loan is even worth.”
Lancaster rallied the crowd to take the protest indoors.
“We need you all to be eyewitnesses to what is about to take place,” she said.
Sit-in leads to five arrests
The noisy procession was briefly barred from the building before gaining entrance through the door at the corner of 19th and Market streets.
Stein and Honkala then led several protestors to sit in the lobby of the ground-floor Conestoga Bank.
As police arrived shortly thereafter to monitor the scene, Lancaster stayed outside. A musician, she explained to NewsWorks that she was due at an important recording session so she couldn’t join the bank sit-in.
“I think that it’s important that you have to continue to live your life,” she said of not letting the stress of foreclosure proceedings “eat you up.”
Her own eviction order was reversed on July 10 amid widespread support from her Germantown neighbors. She said Wednesday afternoon that an injunction was filed in federal court this week, but the outcome remains uncertain.
“My mission is to continue this process through, and inspire other people to choose this path, rather than throwing their hands up in the air or turning the keys back in,” Lancaster explained, as the protesters inside sang and other participants pressed their signs against the bank’s glass walls. “America needs to see how it can be handled.”