Hundreds of demonstrators nationwide turned up on Tuesday for "Occupy Our Homes," a movement designed to protest the nation's climbing foreclosure rate by "reclaiming" homes from bank repossession by squatting in them. California was no exception.
About 100 protesters, with affiliations ranging from GoodJobsLA to Occupy L.A. to the Service Employees International Union, all flocked to the front lawn of Ana Casas' home in the South Gate neighborhood.
Her small bungalow faces a looming eviction as Wells Fargo Bank seeks to repossess the property.
Casas bought her house in 1979; she currently lives there with her husband, mother and 17-year-old son. She has since been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, for which she received a mastectomy and through which she has contracted early onset cerebral palsy.
She exited the house with some difficulty in a wheelchair.
Casas and protesters both argue she made efforts to keep up with her payments, but that the bank had refused to work with her to restructure the mortgage despite three stable incomes and the ability to pay.
The house was refinanced in 1990 in order to make repairs.
Protesters gathered together, pitched tents on the home's front lawn and pledged to call Wells Fargo CEO James Stumpf.
The woman's mother, Rebecca Casas, moved into the home to help take care of her daughter. She said the past year has been a time of fear for her family.
"Every time I hear a knock on the door or somebody at the gate, I think, 'Please don't let them be here,'" said Casas. "They just come and throw you out of your house... and we're not gonna leave."
Occupiers also targeted a house in Riverside where, with the help of protesters, the family moved their furniture back into the now-vacant home and "occupied" the house.
Arturo de los Santos and about 70 supporters broke the lock on the front door of his family’s three-bedroom home and began hauling in furniture and other belongings.
“I’ll be occupying,” de los Santos told a scrum of news media on the lawn outside the home. “I have supporters that will be staying with me.”
De los Santos moved his wife and four children into the house eight years ago. Two years ago, the Orange County manufacturing firm where he worked cut back his hours. He says he missed a couple mortgage payments then applied for a loan modification.
“People started calling the house saying the house was going on auction, so I called the bank, ” says de los Santos. He claims his loan modification application with JP Morgan Chase was rejected. “And eventually we were evicted.”
A spokesman for JP Morgan Chase told the Associated Press that de los Santos is trespassing – but had no further comment.
“We’re trying to get the banks attention so that’s why we’re doing this,” de los Santos says. He told neighbors he would be moving back in.
“On Sunday we went around the neighborhood and told neighbors we were doing this and they’re backing us up. All of them either know someone who’s going through a bad loan modification or know someone who’s out of their home because of a (bad) loan modification.”
Protestors staged similar “home occupations” in South Gate, San Francisco, New York and other cities.