Two home occupiers whose belongings were seized by Invitation Homes in a lockout last month have finally been promised an opportunity to get their possessions back. Today at 11:15 a.m. in front of 1527 W. Birchwood, they will gather to urge the company to keep its word, and will also ask the company to donate the home to a community organization. In addition, they will discuss the ways that Invitation Homes is profiting from the foreclosure crisis.
After supporters launched a call-in campaign on behalf of Michael Donley and Carmilla Manzanet yesterday, an Invitation Homes employee granted permission for the family and their supporters to retrieve their belongings.
Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of the investment giant Blackstone Group, is a management company that gobbles up foreclosed homes at discounted rates, then turns them into high-end rentals. Since it was created last year, Invitation Homes has spent $3.5 billion purchasing homes in cities across the U.S. Many of these homes may have been foreclosed on wrongfully; the foreclosure case of the home that Donley and Manzanet occupied was actually vacated (overturned) because the law firm handling it, Fisher and Shapiro, filed false affidavits (though the foreclosure was re-done, and later went through). In many cases, families victimized by the law firm didn’t have the opportunity to fight their foreclosures, because they had already left their homes by the time the fraud was discovered. This kind of spurious transaction represents an opportunity for Invitation Homes, whose business model maximizes on the misery of the mortgage meltdown.
While banks and investors have done nothing to make Rogers Park a more habitable neighborhood, Carmilla Manzanet and Michael Donley have put $1,000 of their own money, plus thousands more in volunteer labor, into clean-up and restoration of the property. They even rented a dumpster to remove debris from the house, which had been vacant for at least four years.
“We put our own sweat equity into the home, something that no bank or investor has had the willingness to do,” Donley says. “We were giving life to the home, we made it breathe again. A foreclosed home is not an asset to the bank – it is a liability. People are the lifeblood of any home.”
After finding themselves on the brink of homelessness earlier this year, the couple had hoped to make a new life for themselves and their high-school-age children. Neighbors, who had to deal with cutting grass in the eyesore home’s lawn, had previously talked about trying to get it demolished. They were happy that someone had moved into the home.
On Monday April 29, Donley and Manzanet were approached by an employee of of Invitation Homes, which had just purchased the property from Bank of New York Mellon. The employee never identified himself to the couple as a representative of the building’s owner. The Invitation Homes employee asked if the couple had legal papers to the house, then immediately called the police. Donley and Manzanet’s home was swarmed by at least ten police officers, who pointed a gun at Manzanet’s head and arrested the couple on trespassing charges. After a harrowing ordeal, they were released. The next day, the employee set up an appointment to let the couple retrieve their belongings, but reneged. They were arrested again.
IInvitation Homes’ actions were illegal; Illinois law requires written notice as well as legal proceedings before residents can be evicted from a property. Worse, while Carmilla Manzanet and Michael Donley were in jail, Invitation Homes callously boarded up the building with their children’s backpacks and school books, their pet cat and pet turtle, and all their belongings inside.
Says next-door neighbor Jeanne Wirspa: “They should at least be able to get their belongings.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Michael Donley, 312-772-6545
Carmilla Manzanet, 312-725-2983
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