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Friday, December 7, 2012

Atlanta family moves into bank-owned home in Pittsburgh

Occupy Our Homes Atlanta celebrated a year of action yesterday by moving a family in to this bank-owned home
  • Clay Duda
  • Occupy Our Homes Atlanta celebrated a year of action yesterday by moving a family into this bank-owned home.

A family of four who has bounced around Atlanta homeless shelters for months now has a place to call home, at least for now.

About 50 people and a barrage of media outlets joined members of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta in Pittsburgh yesterday as the group announced the family was moving into the bank-owned house, and started to make repairs to the property.

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  • Clay Duda
  • Renkina Wheeler (left) and Michelene Meusa answer questions from reporters in the driveway of their new home in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta.

"My son is very excited. My daughter is very excited," said Renika Wheeler, 39, who lost her home and has struggled to find work since being laid off from her advertising job at the AJC more than a year ago. "[For them] to have their own rooms, that's a great thing."

Wheeler and her partner, Michelene Meusa, already have the utilities in their name and plan to move their family into the property, officially owned by New York-based M&T Bank, as soon as possible. Occupying the house involved little more than opening the door.

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  • Clay Duda
  • Occupy Our Homes Atlanta organizer Shabnam Bashiri (second from right) and Carmen Pittman, who's family has been fighting their own foreclosure battle over a home in the Old Fourth Ward, tear up as Wheeler and Meusa's children join their parents on the front porch of the house.

"Our goal is to get them to officially live here and have M&T Bank hand it over to them," Occupy Our Homes Atlanta organizer Shabnam Bashiri said. "We're hoping for the best, but we really don't know what's going to happen."

Atlanta Police don't plan to take action against the family unless the owner of the property files a complaint, APD spokesperson Carlos Campos said. M&T Bank was unable to be reached for a statement at the time of publication.

Bashiri said there are more than six vacant homes for every person in Atlanta, especially in neighborhoods like Pittsburgh that have been rocked by the economic recession and slumping housing markets. Looking up and down the 1000 block of Windsor Street, that was hard to dispute. Nearly every other house seemed boarded up and abandoned, and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta already has plans to "reclaim" another home only a few doors down weekend.

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  • Clay Duda
  • Within spitting distance of the house occupied by the Wheeler and Meusa family, Occupy Our Homes Atlanta plans to "reclaim" this property on Saturday. A passerby said the house had been vacant longer than she had lived in the neighbrhood, at least eight years.

But there are neighbors here, members of a vibrant community. Both houses sit only a few doors away from a church and less than a block from a middle school, and not far from the grassy expanse of Pittman Park.

Darrell Smith, 47, who lives across the street, supported the decision to move in the house.

"I think it's the right thing to do, taking back the neighborhood," Smith said. "What good is it doing the bank, having all these empty houses? They ain't doing nothing with them, and vagrants just tear them apart."

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  • Clay Duda
  • Media coverage of the event was fierce. Here, a local TV news crew leaves their camera to cover the rally, which in total lasted little more than half an hour (though OOHA volunteers stayed long after).

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The rally marked a year of action for Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, and brought a number of community members and others fighting to save their homes to the stage.

Retired Atlanta Police detective Jacqueline Barber, who earlier this week took her own foreclosure dispute to her bank's headquarters in Minneapolis, appeared along side Senator Vincent Fort, Joe Beasley, Douglas Dean, and others.

"I want everybody to know this is a movement," Dean said from the front porch. "If you leave them empty in our community, we are going to take these houses back."

"This house belongs to a bank in New York," Beasley said. "If they want to take some action, then we'll let it run its course - but we want this family here in peace."

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