Q&A: Matt Nelson, Just Cause Oakland

I’m pleased to offer up this great interview with Matt Nelson, who is the Minister of Communications at Just Cause Oakland, a civil rights organization whose members are Oakland residents fighting for housing justice. I had a chance to ask Matt some questions about the work Just Cause is doing, and to follow up on Karen Mims’ struggle to keep her home.

1. Karen Mims has been struggling to renegotiate her loan with Aurora Bank. Can you talk a little bit about the campaign to help Mims and the role that Just Cause has been playing in helping her out?

Just Cause Oakland member Karen Mims bought her East Oakland home in 1997 and because of foreclosure by Aurora Loan Services LLC, she was scheduled to be evicted by the Sheriff on August 4th. That day, Just Cause Oakland organized nearly 100 people to come out to defend Karen Mims’ right to stay and stop her foreclosure. The Oakland Mayor’s office, Council member Larry Reid’s office, and Rebecca Kaplan stood with residents, family, friends and supporters. Our combined efforts secured Karen for another four weeks in her home as well as a direct line with decision makers at Aurora Bank. Aurora is a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers—even a post-bankruptcy Lehman. Now, Just Cause Oakland, along with City of Oakland officials are in negotiations with Aurora Bank to keep Ms. Mims in her home.

We have drawn a line in the sand and declared four neighborhoods in East and West Oakland as ‘Right to Stay Zones’. These are areas hard-hit by foreclosures where residents continue to face significant displacement, foreclosure, and eviction–if not from the initial wave of foreclosures, from the ‘second wave’ now being experienced as layoffs and home devaluation contributing to the housing crisis.
Today (August 27), Just Cause Oakland had a meeting Aurora’s decision-makers, and, with the support of City of Oakland officials, we have put forth a proposal to Aurora Bank for how Ms. Mims can stay long-term in her home. We are asking people to be ready and vigilant for what will happen next. Either we will celebrate a great right to stay victory or we will escalate the public pressure on Aurora. The next move is theirs, but the final word will be ours.

2. A lot of banks have been accused of racist lending practices – how do you see this play out in your work and how has Aurora Bank been predatory in its banking practices?

Aurora Bank and their counterparts have been responsible for economic degradation and massive relocation and displacement of communities of color across the country. Many of the current loan servicing companies made billions off of subprime (predatory) lending and they continue to profit off of default fees and manipulating their revenues through foreclosures while collecting public bailout money.

Indeed, as long as mortgage rates are set by profiteers on the top floors of San Francisco’s sky scrapers; so long as the politicians are not challenged by organized public pressure; and so long as we do not protest for change and press ourselves to prevent the damage caused by the recklessness and disregard for the public’s wellbeing, the banking industry will continue to beat down Oakland residents and deprive millions of people across the country of their livelihoods.

The feasting freely on the taxpayer money handed out to corporations by the government must end. And, before Congress or the City of Oakland dips into the public piggy bank, it should require clear benchmarks for the financial industry to deliver immediate reinvestment in modifying loans, creating jobs, and rebuilding homes to make our neighborhoods healthy and safe places to live. There are clear paths to economic stability and we have the responsibility to fight for a better way, and win.

3. What other issues and causes are Just Cause focused on right now?

Just Cause Oakland, a member-based civil rights and housing justice organization, fights for tenant rights, public housing residents, and low-income homeowners. We are currently gearing up for our 10th anniversary celebration on Thursday, September 17 in Downtown Oakland. Our vision is one of real change and dramatic re-investment in people and public infrastructure. Real change amounts to public ownership over key financial decisions that affect our lives and futures. It means investing in building public capacity such as homes, schools, and municipal services. We all know that great public investment would lead to greater local control, bank accountability, and decisions by banks that could actually benefit the common good. Our mission is to create a just and diverse city and region by organizing Oakland residents to advocate for housing and jobs as human rights, and to mobilize for policies that produce social and economic justice in low-income communities of color.

JCO members are residents in the working-class flatlands of East and West Oakland. Our work is envisioning and creating the city we want to live in. We are a multi-racial, multi-generational organization that reflects the strength and diversity of Oakland’s people. Through a combination of grassroots organizing campaigns and leadership development, we have successfully built a broad-based organization that has an impact on policy-makers in Oakland.

4. Any leads or advice for young people trying to take action against predatory lending and banking practices foreclosure?

Young people must assert themselves and demand space and voice in housing justice efforts around the country. Learn about housing rights and be aware of what is happening to housing in our neighborhoods. Everyone could pay more attentions and reach out to people who seem in danger of losing their housing. Communities need the people to come together, to support each other, and fight with correct information and resolve. Young people know how to organize themselves and others—this is critical because no one can defend their home against the banks and law enforcement entities alone. Young people see a lot in the neighborhoods and often see things first. Early identification of a housing crisis is so important because there is often just a few days that separates someone who is living in their home to someone who is living in their car.

We are at a critical point in addressing the present economic crisis. Our situations can improve and banking practices will improve, only if we make them. Oakland’s economic crisis has its roots in a broken system that gives large banks and other corporations far too much power. Walking through the neighborhoods of East and West Oakland you see boarded up houses and for sale signs on every block. As families are forced to leave the neighborhood and move elsewhere, critical social, educational, health and economic bonds are compromised. Together, we have to find ways to keep the people in the neighborhood and keep the neighborhood for the people.

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