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Mass. activists rally at Fed, protest bank bailout

Melony Swasey

Housing activists, workers’ rights advocates, local union members and other unhappy Bostonians rallied last week in front of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, calling on the nation’s lawmakers to ensure that a proposed bailout of faltering Wall Street firms included aid for those in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has asked Congress to approve $700 billion of public money to purchase the complex, faulty mortgage-backed in­­vestments that have crippled the U.S. housing economy, sending more than 1 million U.S. homes into foreclosure.

But lawmakers in the House on Monday rejected the Bush administration’s emergency rescue bill by a 228-205 vote, ignoring warnings that the economy could nosedive into recession if the legislation failed.

The president and his economic advisers, as well as congressional leaders in both parties, had argued the plan was vital to insulating Americans from the effects of Wall Street’s bad bets. But the howls of protest that rang out from constituents across the country, in rallies like the one held here last Tuesday, made many legislators cautious of rankling the electorate just weeks before the November general election.

“We’re all worried about losing our jobs,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. “Most of us say, ‘I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.’”

The community groups represented at last Tuesday’s rally — including members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL), City Life/Vida Urbana, the Service Employees International Union Local 615 and Jobs with Justice — protested the failure of Paulson and the Bush administration to include lifelines for struggling homeowners in the bailout proposal designed to yank the financial giants from the verge of bankruptcy.

“Taxpayer money must be used to rescue the victims of these crimes before it is used to save the criminals from failure,” said ACORN National President Maude Hurd.

Timed to coincide with a Federal Reserve Bank hearing in Washington, ACORN members around the country picketed at Federal Reserve banks and local congressional offices in several cities. Participants in each rally called for a number of “rescue provisions,” including providing automatic affordable loan modifications to homeowners facing foreclosure, amending bankruptcy law to allow homeowners to restructure home mortgages in court and save their homes, outlawing of predatory lending practices by capping the interest rate on small loans and expanding unemployment benefits, food stamps and heating assistance for families in need.

“Congress must ensure that the bailout actually helps ordinary homeowners and not just the big banks,” said ACORN Youth founder Brenda Douyon at the Boston rally.

The house of Mona Colon, a 62-year-old Hyde Park homeowner, went into foreclosure this year. She had already been struggling to make her $2,000 monthly mortgage payment when her adjustable rate payments increased.

“I stopped making my payments because I couldn’t afford it,” she said.

Working with ACORN, Colon has been able to postpone her foreclosure and is now trying to modify her monthly payment amount.

“I want to know what they’re gonna do to help us,” Colon said. “We’re gonna be on the street.”

Unfortunately, according to Noemi Ramos, head organizer of Boston ACORN, Colon’s tale is all too common — which makes the idea of using $700 billion to boost Wall Street firms a little hard to swallow for some.

“You’ve got people holding down two and three jobs just to be able to make their mortgage payments,” she said. “It’s a smack in taxpayers’ faces to talk about rescuing banks and not mention a single family that’s struggling.”

Ramos said the Massachusetts communities hardest-hit by foreclosures include Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan in Boston, and Springfield, Brockton and New Bedford statewide.

Representatives from the MAAPL’s member organizations said the collective plans to re-file a bill with the state Legislature in January that will call for a six-month freeze on all foreclosures in Massachusetts, giving both homeowners and overwhelmed lenders the chance to catch up.

Two other bills the group plans to reintroduce push for a judicial process for homeowners facing foreclosure and a just-cause eviction process to slow the number of tenant families forced out of their homes.

“We need the space to do this with quality,” Ramos said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.