WHAT IS #WENEEDSHELTER?
#WeNeedShelter is a campaign curated by The I Project, a Chicago-based non-for-profit. The goal is to confront systemic injustices that actively discriminate and displace Black women, key to defeating the threat of gentrification within low-income neighborhoods. Through sharing narratives and education on housing, #WeNeedShelter will empower otherwise disenfranchised members of communities to regain sovereignty over their housing situations.
THESE ARE THE FACTS.
When the owner of the title to a home dies, the inheritor of the home (a partner, child, or other designated person) must probate the home: legally transfer the title of the home from the previous owner to the new owner of the home.
A will stating who inherits the home is NOT enough to own the home. The title must be legally transferred by a judge within TWO YEARS of the previous owner’s death. After this two year time period, the bank or government has the right to seize the home.
PROPERTY TAXES + GENTRIFICATION
When someone does not pay their property taxes over a certain amount of time (depending on the state laws), it is possible for someone to purchase those unpaid taxes. If someone purchases your unpaid taxes, that person now owns your home.
This purchase will be announced in the local newspaper and online, and the person whose taxes were purchased does not get informed directly. So, if you don’t know to look, or how to look, you won’t know that you don’t own your home until the new owner serves you an eviction notice. You can continue to make mortgage payments, not knowing that you do not own your home anymore.
If the owner waits years to inform you that they’ve purchased your home, they can evict you with little to no notice and demand rent plus interest for the time you remained in the home after it was purchased.
These sales happen by auction, orchestrated by the government which is owed the taxes. When a local government has a plan to gentrify a neighborhood, these auctions are publicized more broadly and made more accessible in order to facilitate the removal of poor people of color from a neighborhood.
Evictions can be unlawful for a number of reasons: malpractice by the loaner, malpractice by the seller, not enough notice before the family must move out of the home, not enough payments missed before the lending company places the home for sale, etc. However, a lot of unlawful evictions affect folks who either don’t know whether the eviction is unlawful or simply do not have the resources to fight them.
If you are not aware of all of these intricacies or the legality of your treatment, and if you do not have the resources to fight an unlawful eviction (such as legal knowledge or a lawyer), you will either be forced to pay more debt than you should really owe or be removed from your home with little to no compensation.
Nonprofit law organizations like Open Communities (operating in Cook and Lake County in Illinois) exist to fight these unlawful evictions and are successful in doing so when they have the funding. Eviction cases are expensive to litigate and Open Communities fights these cases for free. Their ability to do so is greatly impacted by the government shutdown because they operate on government funding.
DELIBERATE DECEPTION OF BLACK FAMILIES
A common practice within the real estate industry is the intentional deception of low-income families of color. For decades, companies like Countrywide have been telling Black families that they were purchasing a mortgage while finalizing paperwork that does not provide a mortgage, deceiving countless Black family renters into believing they are homeowners-- fundamental to resisting financial crisis in America.
MAMA VALERIE'S STORY
In 1995, Valerie Lewis purchased the deed to her South Shore home from the Veterans Administration (VA) which assigned her to Countrywide as her servicing agent. After over a decade of meeting the challenges of single motherhood, inconvenient employment situations, and changing occupations, Mama Valerie missed her third consecutive mortgage payment in August of 2006. She was informed shortly after that her house would be foreclosed, despite her having gotten her finances in order. After finding another bank to refinance her home, Countrywide told her that another bank had already purchased it because she had missed her mortgage payment. This was the first she had heard of this. Her house was up for auction by October.
Eastern Savings Bank financed Mama Valerie's house for her with a $500 increase in her mortgage payment per month and an extremely high interest rate. During this process, she found that Countrywide had not actually given her a mortgage and the terms of her housing contract were very different than what she was told. While she had the deed to the house, Countrywide had never fully processed her closing papers for VA with the previous homeowner, and that therefore the sale made to Mama Valerie in 1995 was considered a Land Contract. Over the next decade, as Mama Valerie struggled with her new mortgage, it became clear that what Mama Valerie had been communicated to her about what happened in 1995 could very well have been a distortion of the actual situation.
Mama Valerie and daughter Eva Maria Lewis (@imyagirleva) in their South Shore home.
There are more Black women losing their homes than there are Black men incarcerated.
Nonetheless, over the next decade, Eastern Savings Bank would refuse to modify devastating mortgage rates. In 2018, Mama Valerie declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy in order to keep her home. At the very beginning of January, Mama Valerie received an anonymous letter, simply providing a business name and a phone number to call, offering a short-sale purchase of the home. On January 9, Mama Valerie received a motion from Eastern Savings Bank which could lead to the foreclosure of her home. Her story is just one of the millions that make up America’s legacy of systematically displacing Black Americans.
If you are not aware of all of these intricacies or the legality of your treatment, and if you do not have the resources to fight an unlawful eviction (such as legal knowledge or a lawyer), you can either be forced to pay more debt than you should really owe or be removed from your home with little to no compensation. Unlawful evictions are a growing crisis in Black housing, but not a new one.
Want to support Mama Valerie in her fight against displacement? Donate here and share her story using the hashtag #WeNeedShelter.
HOW YOU CAN HELP + FURTHER RESOURCES
1. Share the link to our toolkit here to keep the conversation going and spread resources - You never know who may be able to help or who may be impacted by this issue. For updates on the movement and more, follow us @itstheiproject.
2. Join the movement. Share your stories of displacement on social media using the hashtag #WeNeedShelter.
3. Support organizations targeting displacement and unfair housing practices.
Here are a few to get you started:
Open Communities engages in activities that encourage fair housing practices including landlord-tenant and foreclosure counseling services, community education, and advocacy to make our communities more welcoming for everyone.
LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago) provides "free legal services in non-criminal matters to people living in poverty" in the Chicago area.
Cabrini Green Legal Aid
Cabrini Green Legal Aid operates statewide, providing "legal representation, wraparound services, and advocacy for individuals affected by the legal justice system."
4. Donate your time, money, knowledge, and/or resources to the people and communities in need.