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After a three-month hiatus, the singing protests that disrupt the auction of foreclosed homes returned to New York yesterday, popping up in a Brooklyn courtroom.
The courtroom was packed with prospective buyers eager to bid on the thirteen properties scheduled for auction. But when the auctioneer began to open bidding on the first property, 33 Vanderbilt Avenue, nine people burst into song:
“Listen auctioneer / All the people here / We’re asking you to halt all the sales right now / We’re going to make it but we don’t know how,” they sang, over and over, as court officers moved in, handcuffed them, and led them, still singing, out of the courtroom.
It was the tenth so-called “Auction Blockade” since October to hit the foreclosure auctions held weekly in each borough, and court officers were ready. Where phones and recording devices were once permitted in the courtroom, allowing video to document the protests, yesterday a second security check outside the courtroom collected everyone’s phones.
The disruption prompted exasperated head-shaking from the expectant buyers, but didn’t succeed in delaying proceedings by more than a couple minutes. 33 Vanderbilt was soon sold for a high bid of $782,000, and the bidding moved on to 417 South 5th Avenue.
Even, so organizers of the protest said they considered it a success. “It isn’t just about stopping the sales,” said Karen Gargamelli, a lawyer who represents homeowners in foreclosure cases. “It’s a message to the homeowners that people care about what’s happening to them. It’s a message to the court that they’re providing space for an unjust process. And it’s a message to the investors that they’re doing something morally wrong.”
The fact that the auction carried on even as protesters were still being led out of the courtroom is telling, Gargamelli said. “That moment is the foreclosure crisis,” she said. “The auctioneer proceeding even over the public outrcy.”
Gargamelli dismissed the argument that foreclosure auctions are a necessary form of creative destruction, clearing underwater housing stock for new owners.
“Should an economic recovery be carried out on the backs of homeowners?” she asked. “The banks are getting bailed out and they’re making money on these auctions? That’s crazy.”
Gargamelli added that foreclosure auctions actually discourage banks from negotiating in good faith with homeowners. “They get more money doing it this way,” she said.
In the long run, Gargamelli said, the goal of the singing blockades is to build the scaffolding for a widespread popular resistance to the foreclosures produced by banks illegal mortgage practices, currently under investigation by the federal government and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.