City Life expands to national activities

March 30, 2012
By

(Photo Courtesy Brandon German) A March 22 City Life/Vida Urbana anti-foreclosure vigil in Hyde Park draws protesters.

From its Jamaica Plain seeds in 1973, City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) is making big change grow all over the country.

As a result of its housing rights organizing, CLVU has been written about in newspapers all over the country, including The New York Times in 2010.

CLVU has become a nation-wide model for foreclosure activism, with partnerships all over the state and Rhode Island and training workshops all over the country.

CLVU is a bilingual community organization, formed in 1973, that aims to “fight for racial, social and economic justice and gender equality” by empowering the working class population through education, advocacy and “direct action”—protests, sit-ins, vigils and other actions.

“It was a solid base of organizers and activists that came together and started working all over the city,” Executive Director Curdina Hill told the Gazette.

Their primary cause is social inequality, tenants rights and preventing housing displacement, Hill said. Their tactics, the “sword and shield” approach, involves education and counseling from legal professionals and students (the “shield”) and all kinds of public protests and pressure on predatory lenders and landlords (the “sword”).

In the 1970s, CLVU fought for—and won—rent control for tenants. In the 1980s, CLVU was very active in JP, trying to prevent condo conversion-motivated evictions, to varied success. In the 1990s, it focused on creation of affordable housing. And in the 2000s, the real estate market boom and crash kept CLVU as busy as ever.

Now it active mostly in other neighborhoods, as JP was insulated from the worst of the mortgage crisis.

CLVU’s “foreclosure defense campaign has been our most intense effort since 2007,” Hill said.

“Foreclosure is something that people feel a lot of shame and embarrassment over,” Hill said. “We help people break out of that. We help give people a voice.”

And with last year’s “99 percent” movement protesting income inequality all over the country, CLVU gained a powerful ally.

“It’s part of the public debate now,” Hill said.

Previous CLVU actions have included eviction auction protests, vigils, picket lines and blockades. Volunteers have marched into banks and demanded the banks accept check from renters of foreclosed properties. They’ve occupied vacant foreclosed buildings.

Since last fall, CLVU has periodically coordinated with Occupy Boston for some joint public action. The two organizations have organized joint rallies to oppose commercial banks evicting foreclosure victims who can still afford to stay in their homes; marches on Fannie Mae and Bank of America, two prominent controversial lenders; and two vigils to support a foreclosure victim as recently as last week.

As a direct result of the market crash and CLVU’s bigger profile, the organization has grown much beyond its 1970s JP roots.

In 2011, CLVU started to expand its efforts with regular meetings in other cities and towns in Massachusetts—Lynn, Revere, Worcester, North Side, Malden, Everett and Medford—and a partner office in Rhode Island, Hill said. CLVU is also now part of a state-wide coalition, the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending.

CLVU is still growing. It’s starting to participate in nation-wide efforts, the first of which will happen this weekend, in Baltimore: CLVU representatives will be training other organizers in eviction protection organizing. Other workshops around the country are being planned, Hill added.

“We’ve developed a model for addressing the foreclosure crisis…a model for outlining a movement,” Hill said. “We’re starting to introduce our model in cities across the country.”

The model includes ambitious goals.

Part of their model demands all banks stop post-foreclosure, no-fault evictions—situations when the bank had foreclosed on a deliquent homeowner who had been renting the property and the rent-paying residents get evicted through no fault of their own.

“We have two major strategies,” Hill said. “Encouraging people to stay in their homes, first through legal advocacy, then defending them as they go through eviction…We also try to get the bank to do principal reduction as part of loan modification,” she continued.

Principal reduction is when a foreclosing bank reduces the loan principal—the amount borrowed—to current real estate values as part of loan modifications.

In their literature, CLVU states, “Banks caused the housing bubble. They should pay after it crashed.”

“It’s something banks should be doing. It helps people and communities stay stable,” Hill said.

Locally, meetings still happen weekly at CLVU’s space in the Brewery Complex on Amory Street. Over 100 people show up every Tuesday to talk about their foreclosures and ask for help from lawyers and support from each other.

CLVU is still active all over Boston, though Hill said it most active in Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and Roslindale.

Since 2007, CLVU helped organize more than 20 blockades and sit-ins to prevent evictions, most of which were successful to some degree.

CLVU’s website is clvu.org.

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