Annette Steele, 79-year-old mother of seven and great-grandmother of 50, has been issued a formal eviction notice by the Circuit Court of Multnomah County. Annette is a long standing community member and her home is one of the last black households in the northeast neighborhood where she resides.
But Ms. Steele is standing her ground. She has stated that she will not be leaving her home regardless of whether the sheriff wants her to or not. She feels that her home was taken from her unfairly. As an elder in the community and an active member of her church she is widely respected and supported. However, because of her age and identity, Ms. Steele is also the target of countless scams. She is easy prey for companies who have made it their business to trick the elderly and people of color out of their homes.
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The Steele family has lived at the home on NE 14th Ave for 26 years, currently three people, representing three generations, reside in the house. On Thursday, a dozen family members went door-to-door to tell their neighbors about the forced eviction and ask for their active support in keeping control of their home in the community and out of the hands of financial companies and banks. Neighbors took yard signs and signed up to participate in a Rapid Response Network to help defend Ms. Steele and others in the neighborhood against eviction.
“This is my family’s home, we have a right to our home. If the Sheriff comes and tries to take my home away, my family, and my neighbors will do everything we can to defend this house,” said Ms. Steele. “We’ll stand together. The system didn’t help me, but my community will.”
Ms. Steele’s story stretches back into the early days of the financial meltdown, and is emblematic of how banks are profiting off our communities through complex schemes. After paying on her home for 20 years, a company widely seen as one of the most predatory actors in the subprime crisis offered Ms. Steele a subprime variable rate loan to do needed maintenance on her home. Even though it was a bad loan Mrs. Steele was able to make all her payments on time. But when it came time to refinance, as a condition of her loan, she was consistently denied. Unable to refinance and negotiate better terms she was left with a ballooning bill that was unmanageable for her. She sought help at every turn and was denied. In the meantime foreclosure proceedings continued and eventually her house was sold without her consent and now she is facing eviction.
Mrs. Steele was a domestic worker for over 46 years. She saved her pennies to be able to purchase her home. She talks about having to walk from her home in Northeast to Lake Owego to get to work one month, when times were particularly hard and she could not afford the bus fare. In the last few years she has stood up against the deep pockets of the lenders and they have taken advantage of our legal system to put an elderly lady on the street for short term profit. This is not an isolated incident. Many residents are being preyed upon, so more and more are taking a stand.
“So many people are in this exact situation where the system almost seems like it is set up for the benefit of the banks and financial sector and against working people,” says Ahjamu Umi, NE Portland resident and member of the Black Working Group. “The Steeles are real people in my neighborhood and I’ll fight alongside of them to keep their home, just like I’d fight along side of anyone else facing eviction. Housing is a right and the banks don’t have any authority to take that away.”
Will you stand with Ms. Steele?