BY ZAKIYA ALAKE AND DAWN DUNCAN
“While we were fighting police brutality and COVID’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court put its knee on our necks.”
Even with undeniable evidence of illegal foreclosures throughout the state, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) just deprived homeowners of the right to defend their homes unless they pay for access to the courts—even when people must go without essentials to do so. In response, the group Bring Our Wealth Home is demanding that the SJC rescind its recent decision in the Alton King case.
The law allows 14 days to make the request. We delivered our letter on June 26, and will hold a virtual protest soon. Check our website for more information on that front.
Bring Our Wealth Home (BOWH) is a campaign of the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL) that is led by women of color who are on the Board of MAAPL. We work to inform, educate, and organize in communities of color that were initially targeted by the predatory mortgage lending industry. Together, the two of us have more than 15 years of experience fighting illegal home foreclosures in Mass, and have organized and supported homeowners by drafting and advocating for legislation to protect them and fight the predatory loan industry. We take it to the streets at foreclosure auctions, and we focus on Black and Brown communities, as well as women-headed households, that were refused traditional mortgages—even when they qualified for them—and were instead offered toxic subprime mortgages.
Yeah, we know. You think we’ve lost our collective minds. The weight of our longtime battle as anti-foreclosure fighters has finally driven us mad. But we are not playing around. The manner in which the SJC acted should make everyone fearful.
A lot of this is hard to believe unless you have fought foreclosure yourself. The mainstream media and even some in the progressive space will heap shame and blame on us “foreclosed” property owners. Well, you bought too much house. Why should we even care about you, let alone fight for you? But there are many reasons, from the coronavirus hitting like a ton of bricks, to layoffs, to weeks-long delays in pandemic unemployment assistance. Or you lost your employer-paid health insurance. Then you went into foreclosure. Even if the legislature and the governor extend the moratorium on foreclosure and evictions, they didn’t freeze those payments.
And you should know the way this could play out. Status as an indigent person won’t protect you in court from illegal foreclosure if the SJC doesn’t rescind its Alton King decision. That hurts, because many foreclosures are by banks that do not even own the mortgages. It’s scary, but true.
If you meet the indigency standard, the court will waive your one-time cost of an appeal bond. However, if you can’t pay “fair use and occupancy” ongoing, you won’t be able to fight your foreclosure. Sarah McKee, a retired federal prosecutor and Governor Deval Patrick appointee to the state’s Registry of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission, has volunteered with MAAPL and BOWH. She says, “I have never seen a foreclosure of a Massachusetts home mortgage that was legal. And I have never seen a piece of legal work as dishonest as the SJC’s decision in Alton King.”
As we noted in our letter to the SJC:
Black and Brown people are especially harmed by this ruling.
The history of racial oppression in Massachusetts should be considered.
It is interesting that a Black man with a $1 million mortgage (Mr. King) was chosen from a queue of six appellants.
The burden should not be placed on Mr. King to prove he is worthy of the opportunity to defend his home.
This decision must be reversed in order to meet the constitutional rights for indigent parties.
The court must alter its guidance to lower courts that non-payment of a mortgage is a basis to deny justice for victims of unconscionable contracts.
We cannot believe this is the same SJC that on June 3 wrote in a letter to the legal community that it would “look afresh at what we are doing, or failing to do, to root out any conscious and unconscious bias in our courtrooms; to ensure that the justice provided to African-Americans is the same that is provided to white Americans; to create in our courtrooms, our corner of the world, a place where all are truly equal.” With that statement considered, how could the SJC subsequently, on June 17, render a decision that does so much harm?
This is judicial suffocation, and We. Can’t. Breathe. This decision facilitates structural racism.
BOWH and MAAPL have a long history of fighting for homeowners. Together, in 2010, we helped make it a state law that after foreclosure, banks had to rent to tenants until the property was re-sold. In 2012, we helped make it illegal for banks to refuse to sell a home to someone who returned it to the foreclosed homeowner. And we have helped hundreds buy their homes back and hundreds more reverse illegal foreclosures through the courts, all while exposing illegal banking practices. For five years, thousands of people across Mass have stopped banks from slashing homeowner rights.
All those efforts are reaching a critical stage, and we will need many more to join us. Some of you are in foreclosure right now, some are on the brink, and many have already taken action. Now we encourage you to join us in the struggle to Bring Our Wealth Home.