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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Water Bill Prompts Eviction Notice for Woman Protesting Foreclosure

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Scores of people showed up this morning at the foreclosed home of a Northeast Portland woman waging what's now become a two-front battle in her bid to keep from being kicked to the street. Alicia Jackson—who reoccupied her home on May Day while pressing a claim that her foreclosure was illegal—has since been served with an "order to vacate" listing her house as a "danger" because it lacks municipal water service.

Jackson and a team of housing activists and religious leaders promised to defy the order during a news conference in the morning gloom. They called on the city's water bureau to restore service, a seemingly simple solution, noting Jackson had fixed up the house and paid other utilities since May Day. And once the sun was up, tents were going up in her yard—pitched by sympathizers who vowed to help her fend off any cops sent in to enforce an eviction.

"We must take a stand house by house, homeowner by homeowner, and say no more," said Cecil Prescott of the Ainsworth United Church of Christ. "Turn Ms. Jackson's water on."

"For several months, it's been evident the city is siding with the banks and scavenger developers," Jackson said, reading a statement from her porch, complaining that the home's currently recognized owner, Fox Capital, had let the house fall into disrepair and blight after buying the house from the company that took it off Jackson's original lender's hands. Jackson also said she'd be willing to pay whatever Fox Capital owed after months of its failure to pay the water bill.

"Instead of solving the issue with a flip of a switch," she said, "they are trying to evict me and board up my home."

But that simple solution—turning on the water, and thereby obviating the need for an eviction—isn't really, says the city's water bureau. Water bureau administrator David Shaff says the current recognized owner of the property is Fox Capital, and that Fox Capital has specifically told the city not to restore service.

"We know who the property owner is today, according to the law," Shaff says. "It's possible the court system will say we can change that and say Alicia Jackson is the appropriate owner. If that happens, we'll say, 'Great, we'd love to turn your water back on.'"

The eviction timeline is also unclear. Shaff says he was the one who alerted the Bureau of Development Services about today's rally, after reporters called him. And he says that even though the vacate order is effective today, "they're not doing anything." A spokesman for BDS, which handles code enforcement for the city, is adjudicating the water issue and confirmed the vacate order but that the bureau "isn't involved in any active eviction related to the events occurring today."

I've got a call into the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office to see if anyone else is asking for an eviction to be enforced. I've also left a message seeking comment with Fox Capital's Washington-based attorney.

The rally at Jackson's house this morning has since given way to a general assembly meeting this afternoon on housing justice. And there's more to come. Another family who spoke this morning said they, too, plan to resist an eviction notice due to be enforced at their Northeast Portland home this Monday. Also, next Saturday, November 3, activist groups from across Portland will be joining the Portland Action Lab (the group behind a handful of other large, anti-bank protests in the past year) in a widespread protest of austerity measures.

Says Nick Caleb, among the austerity protest's organizers: "This is what it looks like when the community pulls itself up by its bootstraps."

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