By Mo Schweiger
“Fannie Mae, you can’t win, you can’t have my house back!” proclaimed Barbara Williams on Wednesday, May 3rd from the stoop of the home that she has owned since 2005. Around 50 neighbors and supporters were gathered on her front lawn for a community vigil organized by Springfield No One Leaves (SNOL) to support Williams in her fight to buy back her home from Fannie Mae, who foreclosed on it in November of 2017. Since then, she has been fighting with the support of SNOL to get Fannie Mae to the table to negotiate buying back her house.
The vigil was held to support Williams in calling for Fannie Mae to enter negotiations with her to buy back her home. “All along she’s been approved by BlueHub Capital to buy back the property, we just couldn’t get Fannie Mae to the table. That’s why we’re here today,” SNOL director Rose Webster-Smith told The Shoestring.
In a public letter that she sent to Fannie Mae, Williams writes that she began struggling to make her mortgage payments when her first husband was diagnosed with cancer. When she lost her job because her position was phased out and her husband succumbed to cancer, she fell behind on her payments. “I attempted to get remodification, but they continuously said that they needed more paperwork. By the time I sent in all of the paperwork, the bank refused to accept any money from me because I was so behind even though I was continuously sending in checks,” Williams told the assembled crowd.
“Let’s chant so loud that they can hear us!” Webster-Smith exclaimed, leading community members in songs and chants calling for accountability from the banks. Springfield City Council representative and mayoral candidate Jesse Lederman then spoke, voicing his support for Williams and all Springfield residents facing foreclosure. “Time and time again when we come together as a community and organize as neighbors, we pull through together. That is the story of Springfield No One Leaves, that is the story of the city of Springfield, and that will be the story of Barbara and [her husband] Ron” he told the crowd.
Williams’s story is one that is familiar to the members of SNOL. Josephus Grant is a member of the board of SNOL and shared that the banks sold his home for “pennies on the dollar” even though he has the income to afford the house. Grant emphasized the injustice of the situation, saying that the banks did not provide him with the help that they promised, breaking Federal Housing Administration and Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations in the process. Additionally, Grant underscored the difficulty that post-foreclosure homeowners face in attempting to buy back their homes. “There are no attorneys who specialize in this area. We are forced to argue complicated foreclosure defenses on our own within a system that is meant for attorneys,” he told The Shoestring.
Williams also addressed the crowd, telling the story of her struggle with Fannie Mae and sharing that after receiving her public letter, Fannie Mae finally agreed to negotiate with her that morning. “I felt so good when I got that letter today, it was truly a blessing. I know that we will be able to purchase this house back,” Williams told The Shoestring. “I have been here since 2005, raised my children here, cared for sick families here, and done so much for people that need help. I am so filled with happiness that so many people in the same fight that I’m in came out to support me,” she continued.
“We’re giving them one week to negotiate in good faith, then we’re going to show them who Springfield is!” announced Webster-Smith after Williams shared her news.
Springfield No One Leaves has been helping people stay in their homes and fight foreclosure since 2010, including Webster-Smith herself. SNOL is a grassroots, member-led organization that organizes residents who have been directly affected by the housing crisis, building a movement that has helped countless people stay in their homes.
In addition to helping homeowners who have been foreclosed on, SNOL organizes tenants facing eviction and organizes tenant unions in manufactured home parks. “If anybody has a housing crisis, come to us and we will organize you into the movement,” said Webster-Smith. Webster-Smith condemned the current status of banks like Fannie Mae, saying that “these entities are taxpayer owned. We bailed them out, yet they are not willing to negotiate in good faith.” Webster-Smith also remarked on how Williams’ situation and the situation in Springfield at large reflects broader national trends, saying that “last year foreclosures were up 80% in the first quarter. They’re up 20% from last year’s numbers now.”
Mo Schweiger is a writer, comedian, and teacher living in Greenfield with their lizard, Louise.
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