Housing is a human right—Let’s defend that right in the 29th Ward
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Last August, Alice Polk, an 85 year old South Austin resident faced eviction from her home of nearly 50 years. Visually impaired and with no family members present, scammers got her to sign up for a “reverse mortgage” and before long her house was in foreclosure for not having homeowners insurance.
Reverse mortgages are often used by scammers because they promise payouts to elderly homeowners based on the equity in their houses. But the contracts are complex and have traps set within them to trip up people who do not have expensive lawyers. Alice Polk was told by the scammer that she did not have to worry about paying property taxes and homeowners insurance, an outright lie.
The South Austin Community Coalition Council (SACCC) who led protests against the treatment of Alice Polk, advises people to avoid reverse mortgages all together. Thanks to community support, Alice Polk is still in her home and is being represented by the John Marshall Law School.
It turns out that Mark Diamond, the head of OSI Financial Services, Inc., and Harbor Financial Group, the companies who scammed Alice Polk, had been sued by Attorney-General Madigan in 2009 . According to Madigan’s office:
“…these defendants purposely solicit homeowners in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, luring unsuspecting borrowers into deceptive refinancing loans and home repair contracts that they cannot afford and did not necessarily need…Now, many of the victims are at risk of foreclosure, and some have already lost their homes as a result of this deception.”
There are other civil complaints against Diamond going back to 1986, including ones filed by the City of Chicago.
So here’s my question. How could this man and his accomplices still be walking around after nearly 30 years of thievery? The man steals people’s money and causes them to lose their homes. If he had snatched a purse, he’d have been arrested and perhaps faced jail time. But he used smooth words and an ink pen to commit his crimes. Frankly I don’t see much difference. Except that losing one’s home and savings is more costly.
But Diamond is just a small-time crook compared to banking giants Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi and Chase whose massive illegal mortgage fraud nearly crashed the entire global economy in 2008 and caused countless people to go into foreclosure. The closure crisis affected renters as well as homeowners. Entire rental units were foreclosed and the tenants evicted. The top management of the banks didn’t even get a slap on the wrist and the banks were allowed to stay in business. The companies were eventually fined millions, but to them, that’s just the cost of doing business.
In 1948 the USA signed off on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stated that housing is a human right, yet under US law those who abuse that human right seem to get away without serious consequences.
We have had a national fair housing law since the 1968. What if the USA had enforced fair housing laws seriously? Would Mark Diamond have been able to target African American homeowners with seeming impunity? The big banks targeted working class families in general, but particularly African American and Latino ones. Would the big banks gotten away with that if fair housing laws had been vigorously enforced?
Here in the 29th Ward we can just walk around the neighborhoods to see how our human right to housing has been badly abused in so many ways.
Where is the law when we need it to defend our human right to housing? Where are our elected officials who make housing policy?
Isn’t it time the people of 29th Ward joined with others across the city to say,” Housing is our human right and we’re going to do what is necessary to make sure that right is respected!”