Curdina Hill’s Letelier-Moffitt Acceptance Speech

We are pleased and deeply honored to receive a Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute of Policy Studies, an organization whose mission and values mirror our own.

Curdina HillFor 40 years, City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots social justice organizing organization, has organized tenants against displacement in Boston’s working class communities of color as part of a larger economic and social justice agenda to put people before profits.

Housing is a human right, not a commodity. In the face of one of the worst economic recessions, in the wake of the bank bailout, and the increasing loss of homes through bank foreclosures, and ultimately the huge loss of wealth for people and communities of color, City Life/Vida Urbana, started its Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense Campaign.

Our strategy was a call for tenants and homeowners to stay in their homes and fight, and to push the banks for principal reduction for those with underwater mortgages. At the time we were seen as those “crazy, radical organizers.Well, let me tell you what we “crazy organizers,”and these brave families who have refused to move have achieved:

  • We have backed down the banks time and time again on eviction day, often making it possible for people to stay in their homes long-term or permanently.
  • We and our regional networks have won new statewide and local protections for tenants and owners living in foreclosed homes.
  • Our members have fought their cases fiercely in court, even all the way up to the highest court in Massachusetts and they have set new legal precedents.
  • Today, principal reduction is part of national policy consideration, and some of the large commercial banks have begun to offer principal reduction to fair market value.
  • With initial support from Open Society Foundations, our organizing has expanded regionally and nationally. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, four groups in town or cities with high foreclosure rates are replicating our Bank Tenant organizing model, and this work is being shared with groups nationally. City Life originally convened and is participating in a regional network, NEWROAD, New England Workers and Residents Organizing Against Displacment that has stopped foreclosures and coordinated actions as part of Fannie & Freddie Campaign, Boston, New York and D.C.

Across the country, many groups in Orlando, Baltimore, Atlanta, D.C., and Seattle are following this foreclosing organizing model. Now as national elections loom large, with one candidate deeming close to 50 percent of Americans irresponsible and erosion of social supports with a transfer of wealth of country to the 1 percent, we are heartened by our growing movement and alliances.

Since 2007, when City Life first began fighting the loss of homes through foreclosure, our strength and power has been in the formation and growth of the Bank Tenant organizing movement from seven people to over 1000, the involvement of everyday women and men, tenants and homeowners, who have decided to stand up and fight not only for their homes but theirs of their neighborhoods and all those who are in foreclosed houses and building.

City Life is a lead organization in a national Right-to-the-City campaign to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to give loan modifications with principal reduction. Last month, as part of this campaign, we brought a large contingent from Boston and surrounding communities to a rally and march to New York. This contingent included 50 eighth-graders from the Smith Leadership Academy. It was inspiring to hear them speak clearly and powerfully with reporters about foreclosure and our demands.

Our connection with education and the involvement of young people — this is the promise of our future. We are here not just for the short term but for the long haul. City Life and Bank Tenant Association members plan to be tenacious in this fight for human dignity and for housing as a human right.

I’d like to close with the words of one of our Bank Tenant Association members about her journey and commitment to this struggle.

“I’m still trying to get the bank to negotiate with me to reduce the principal on my mortgage, but now I have the power of the people of City Life on my side. I am not alone…Thanks to City Life for throwing me a lifeline. I walked in worried, and I walked out a warrior. I am not just in a private struggle to save my home. I am in a much larger struggle for housing justice.”
—Carolyn Lomax, a Bank Tenant Association member

Curdina Hill is the executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana. She and her colleague Steve Meacham accepted a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies, alongside attorneys Lauren Song of Greater Boston Legal Services and Andrea Park of Harvard Legal Aid. CLVU.org