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Evicting People in the Rainy Season

Evicting People in the Rainy Season

According to the Talmud, a landlord cannot evict a tenant during the entire rainy season. Clearly, our tradition teaches us that having compassion for those who live in houses we own is as important as the tenant’s responsibility to pay the rent. This is a lesson we might teach the banks who own the mortgages on people’s homes. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 3 million properties in the United States with foreclosure filings, or one in every 45 homeowners in the United States facing foreclosure.

I live at ground zero of the foreclosure crisis – in the “Inland Empire” of California. We have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, with over 100,000 foreclosures in 2010, or one in every fourteen homes. Today, almost half of homeowners’ mortgages in this region are underwater. There are, of course, many reasons for this, among them, immoral banking practices such as robo-signing. Many homeowners have tried desperately to hang onto their properties, attempting to renegotiate their loans with the banks. In most cases, they have received the cold shoulder.

Take one of the residents in my city, Riverside: Arturo De Los Santos. A fourth-generation Mexican-American and a former Marine, De Los Santos has worked as a supervisor for the same aircraft manufacturing company for 21 years. In 2002, he bought a home with his wife and four children. Two years ago, his hours were cut back and he fell behind on his house payments. He tried to get a loan modification from Chase Bank. Just as the loan modification department was working on an agreement, another department foreclosed on him. The Sheriff gave his family 30 minutes to move out.

A few months ago, with the help of organizations like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Occupy Riverside, and the faith-based Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) to which I belong, the De Los Santos family re-occupied their home.  Now, they are facing eviction again, this time by Freddie Mac which has taken over their loan.

Outraged by this and other stories of banks’ treatment of homeowners, I and other Inland religious leaders have begun closing our accounts at the big banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo in favor of smaller, community institutions. We are also urging the Riverside City Council to adopt a responsible banking ordinance that would hold banks accountable for community investment and help keep homeowners in their homes. I urge all of us to put our money where our mouth is.

Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside, CA, is a 2012-2013 Brickner Fellow.

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