A Foreclosure-Free Sukkot

ForeclosureSukkot is the time of the year when Jews think about housing. With wood, and branches, we construct little huts in our yards, porches, and attached to the sides of our real homes. We eat, sleep, and welcome guests in these structures.

We pray and bless and remember what it must have been like to live in something so temporary, so fragile, years ago when Jews wandered through the desert, a homeless, wandering people.

In all of our holiday celebrations – and our lives’ busyness – it is too easy to ignore the fact that housing is still temporary, fragile and frightening for some of the members of our Jewish community, and our Minnesota community as a whole.

Despite decreasing foreclosure rates, Minnesota has the highest foreclosure rate in the entire Midwest, and is 21st in the nation for its rate of foreclosures. The number of foreclosures in September of this year was 70 percent higher than last year. Despite federal reforms and Minnesota’s own efforts to prevent foreclosures or help citizens postpone sheriff’s sales are beneficial, for many people these efforts are too little, too late.

John Ostfield is one of the members of our Jewish community facing foreclosure. He is a single father with three children who represent 30 years of day school, 20 summers of Jewish camp, and nearly 10 years of university. Their family’s struggle with imminent foreclosure of their home was featured twice on the editorial pages of the American Jewish World newspaper.

John, and other Minnesota residents facing foreclosure have a strong ally in the non-profit organization Jewish Community Action.

JCA over the last two years has developed strong relationships with religious, ethnic and community organizations in North Minneapolis and has played a coordinating role in the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition. JCA and the Coalition are working to prevent foreclosures and do outreach to neighborhood leaders to ensure they have the information to help their communities to stay in their homes and know their rights as tenants.

Recently the JCA has expanded its foreclosure prevention efforts into Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, and South Minneapolis, but for David Snyder, JCA’s community organizer coordinating the foreclosure prevention work, there is something special about starting this work on the Northside.

“We are committed to this work, to this community, as Jews. Especially in the Northside,” David explained. “In the early part of the 20th century, the Northside of Minneapolis was Jewish. And there are still mezuzot on the doors. Synagogues are now churches. Folks still remember the Jewish community. And we want to work to help these new communities flourish the way we flourished.”

The JCA is working with community organizations across Minneapolis and its suburbs to create lists of people at risk for foreclosure, and then to send hand-addressed letters to those people with a list of housing resources already vetted by JCA (“there are a lot of scam artists out there,” David explained, pretending to help people). After people receive a letter, they get a knock on the door. JCA uses a community organizing approach and pairs up JCA volunteers with local volunteers to talk to members of the community about their housing insecurity, and to help steer them towards resources that will help to keep them in their homes.

The next phase of JCA’s campaign will be a survey of mortgage counselors and efforts to create a platform of best practices for mortgage companies to adopt. JCA expects to hold several large media events over the coming year.

If you want to get involved in JCA’s foreclosure prevention campaign, by doing data entry, hand-addressing letters, knocking on doors, donating money, or volunteering or attending one of JCA’s media events, contact JCA community organizer David Snyder by email at [email protected] or by phone at 651-632-2184. Get involved and build community with JCA’s IndieJews initiative.

Lawyers can also sign up for the Ramsey County Bar Association’s CLE on “Representing Homeowners in Foreclosure.” The CLE is in the morning of Tuesday, October 13th. To register, contact the RCBA at (651) 222-0846 or email them at [email protected].

Let the end of Sukkot tonight, and the taking down of your family’s sukkah, be the beginning of a new rebuilding within each of us, and within our Jewish and Minnesota communities.

(Photo: respres)