Facing Foreclosure, Residents Say ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’
Years ago, the owner of the Pluto gift shop and Zon’s restaurant, Ken Tilton, was looking for a home with his longtime partner, Frank. They had been renting in Jamaica Plain, but in 2004 they started looking for something to buy.
Frank found a little Mansfard Victorian in the Eggleton Square neighborhood of Roxbury. Tilton was initially skeptical of the neighborhood, but the home won him over so they moved in. Two years later, everything changed. Frank was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
“That was my main concern, so everything else went by the wayside,” Tilton said. “It was very quick at the end. And it was over. And I just had nothing.”
Tilton ended up having to close both of his businesses. Eventually, he no longer was able to make payments on the home in Eggleton Square. The bank moved in to foreclose.
That Ken Tilton was undergoing foreclosure is not unique. In 2010, more than 1 million houses were seized by banks. But Tilton’s story is no less painful for being one of many. That’s the feeling you get experiencing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” of which Ken Tilton’s story is a part. It’s a multimedia project by photographer and reporter Kelly Creedon that looks at the lives at the heart of the housing crisis.
As Creedon points out, when people picture the face of the country’s real estate disaster, people often think of Detroit, Las Vegas, or Florida — not Boston. Generally, observers say that on average, Boston has weathered the housing crises relatively well. But it’s that strange thing about averages — both ends of the spectrum are gathered in a numerical mean that no longer reflects each individual outlier. Here in Boston, the extreme ends of foreclosure are collected in a few neighborhoods — minority neighborhoods.
Creedon says there’s a reason for that.
“During the height of the subprime lending, 2004 to 2006, the highest numbers of expensive, high-risk loans were made in the five communities that have the highest concentration of minority residents, which are Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, Hyde Park and East Boston,” Creedon said. “Not surprisingly, now, when we look at the concentrations of foreclosure activity, 80% of all foreclosure activity happening now is happening in those same five communities.”
Members of those communities are now fighting back, Tilton included. With the help of the Jamaica Plain nonprofit City Life/Vida Urbana, community members have come together to try to keep families facing foreclosure from being evicted. The group is called the Bank Tenant Association.
Creedon met Ken Tilton and the other subjects of “We Shall Not Be Moved” with the help of City Life and the Bank Tenant Association. She now has a grant from the Mass Humanities to tell the stories of the Bank Tenant Association, which has meetings every Tuesday evening.
Creedon says that often people are ashamed to be undergoing foreclosure, but with the help of City Life and their fellow community members, they’ve found the voice to tell their story.
“Being in a room of people who are facing the same challenges — who are also afraid, and frustrated, and embarrassed, and are coming together to support each other — you can feel people exhale to be in that room, and to feel the support, and to feel that network of community,” Creedon said.
Though all the stories in “We Shall Not Be Moved” are on foreclosure, the range of stories reflect the diversity of the problem. For instance, Reggie Fuller and Louanna Hall are tenants in a home where its the landlord being foreclosed on.
“We’ve made this our home, we’ve paid our rent on time,” Fuller said. “It’s hard because I have a place to live and yet I’m homeless. I don’t have the money to find another place to live even though I’m working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.”
Creedon says that while abandoned buildings and demolished homes are the prominent images of foreclosure in the media, they only capture one side.
“I think one thing that this story is trying to say is that foreclosure is not always the end of the line for people. It doesn’t mean that those people automatically disappear,” Creedon said. “People are still in these homes and people are still living their lives day-to-day, and it doesn’t look a lot different than a typical home on a typical block. That’s one thing that was visually impacting for me.”
Millions of families across the country are still struggling to piece their lives together while banks attempt to take their house. In Boston, City Life and the Bank Tenant Association are empowering residents in an effort to help them claw their way back. And, Creedon says, that fight has already made a difference.
“What I found was that people were finding strength in connecting with other people and connecting with their community… just finding relief in standing up for other people,” Creedon said. “And in standing up for themselves, they were exercising a power that they hadn’t tapped into within themselves.”
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