SPRINGFIELD – The planned “liberation” of a vacant 2½-story home on Wilbraham Road was thwarted Wednesday, but protesters pledged to take over another home if local and federal housing policies are not changed soon.
Several local groups, including No One Leaves and Arise for Social Justice, targeted the home for a clean-up to illustrate the surplus of vacant, bank-foreclosed properties in a city with a shortage of affordable housing and a large homeless population.
But after nearly 100 protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside the home, city police told them the property was still privately owned and protected by a no trespassing order.
Malcom Chu, an organizer for No One Leaves, grabbed a bullhorn and announced that the property takeover had been canceled, but similar actions would likely take place in the future.
“When we decide to take over a house, the city will be the last to know,” Chu assured the crowd, which had spent the past hour marching, holding signs and chanting slogans on the sidewalk as a half-dozen officers watched.
Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin explained that the property was vacant, but not abandoned, a distinction that would expose protesters to arrest if they violated the no trespassing sign posted on the front door.
McFarlin said the city had plenty of abandoned properties that could use a volunteer clean-up.
“They just got the wrong house,” he said.
Public records show that property is owned by Marvin Bivens and Earl Willridge, with no address listed.
Chu and other demonstrators, who arrived with rakes and trash bags, said they just wanted to spruce up the property free of charge.
State Rep. Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera, D-Springfield attempted to intervene between the demonstrators and police, telling the officers “they just want to clean the place up.”
Coakley-Rivera said the protesters believed the property’s owners had agreed to the clean-up, but later changed their minds after being contacted by city officials.
The planned takeover was the culmination of a 2-hour bus tour of city properties to show how abandoned and foreclosed properties have exacerbated the shortage of affordable housing while also showing potential solutions to the problem.
The housing advocates, accompanied Coakley-Rivera, City Councilor Timothy Allen and Archbishop Timothy Baymon, stopped at a vacant home at 95 Central St. that dramatized the fate of some properties caught up in the mid-2000 housing bubble, according to Chu and other advocates.
The modest, 2-story wood frame home was sold 3 times in less than 3 years; the price was $58,500 in 2003; $110,000 in early 2005 and then $155,000, Chu explained.
In 2008, the home went into foreclosure, and was eventually sold to an out-of-state real estate investor.
The price was $6,000, Chu said.
“This is far from a recovery” of the housing crisis, said Chu, whose group wants banks to renegotiate mortgages with owners, rather than evicting them and selling homes to investors and hedge funds.