IN 1973, IN the class- and race-polarized city of Boston, City Life began as a socialist collective fighting against evictions and gentrification in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Over the years, it has evolved into a radical non-profit organization with a long history of doing tenant organizing and tenants’ rights work all across the city. City Life was able to avoid sectarian debates to maintain itself as a radical center for housing organizing.
Using Banker and Tradesman magazine to identify buildings in foreclosure, we’re able to canvass door-to-door to talk to those living in foreclosed buildings. City Life/Vida Urbana has worked with almost 2000 families who are defending their homes.
We work through the “Sword” and the “Shield.” The Sword is public protest and public pressure. At a pace of almost one demonstration a week, combined with eviction blockades as a last resort to defend families whose situations have come down to the wire, City Life and its allies have successfully re-negotiated the terms of the mortgage crisis in Boston. Teamed with newly formed partner organizations in Worcester, Lynn, Providence, and Springfield, we are doing it on a regional basis.
You wouldn’t go into war with only a sword — an offense — you also require a strong defense. The second part of the method — the Shield — is legal defense: knowing your rights and putting up an effective legal stand, fighting off the court’s attempt to evict you after foreclosure. Working with legal services lawyers committed to the organizing work, or representing yourself in court, you go into battle armed with both Shield and Sword. Using both, City Life has built a significant resistance to the worst excesses of the banks in the midst of the Great Recession economy.
People come to the meetings and find that they get their voice back, and with that the courage to resist. When you see others struggling with the same issues, the feeling is reflected in yourself, and an outpouring of emotion is often the result. Not feeling alone, and moved by the emotions of others’ situations, people find the courage to resist.
City Life gives advice to people who are before foreclosure, and often refers them to counseling agencies (non-profits) who offer free mortgage modification negotiation services. But it’s the post-foreclosure arena where City Life seriously goes to work.
Another way of describing our method is “The Three-Legged Stool” — the Sword, the Shield, and the Offer. We work with a non-profit bank called Boston Community Capital, which is dedicated to getting homes back in the hands of foreclosed owners. They pay the bank cash for the house at as low a price as they can get, then sell back to the original owners.
We say what needs to be said, then get out of people’s way so they can take the lead. City Life tries to bring people together to fight for their homes. “Leave your shame at the door” and join the resistance, we often say. We kill odious debt through resistance to the bubble-inflated mortgage prices.
Reblogging just cause it’s yet another example of Jamaica Plain kicking ass.