Amy Schur is giving Wall Street a heart attack. As the campaign director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, she’s been organizing a national campaign to get cities to use their eminent domain powers to seize “underwater” mortgages from banks and resell them to homeowners with affordable monthly payments. Last year ACCE began organizing homeowners in Richmond, Calif., a blue-collar city of 103,000 in the Bay Area where half the homeowners are underwater. In Richmond, a progressive mayor and city council grabbed the idea to hold Wall Street accountable for crashing the economy and stripping homeowners and communities of their wealth. The idea quickly spread to other cities. Schur, 47, has been traveling around the country, meeting with members of Congress, community activists, unions and others to coordinate the campaign. She brings more than 25 years of community organizing experience to this battle.
Schur grew up in a suburb of Boston. At Oberlin College, she led a successful campaign to get Oberlin to divest from the South African government and organized opposition to US support for Central American dictatorships. After college she worked as an organizer for ACORN in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles from 1988 until 2009, helping low-income people win improvements in housing, job training and other areas.
Four years ago she and other activists launched ACCE to build a statewide movement for social and economic justice. The group now has a staff of 28, about 8,400 dues-paying members, an online list of 42,000 supporters and a number of important victories under its belt, including a statewide homeowners bill of rights, the strongest foreclosure prevention legislation in the country.
The campaign in Richmond is driving Wall Street crazy. Major banks including Wells Fargo and money management firms including PIMCO and Blackrock have poured enormous resources into lobbying, lawsuits and media campaigns to block the city’s plans. They know that more than 10 million American homeowners are drowning with underwater mortgages and that Richmond is only one of many “hot spots.” In 2013, even as home prices began to rise in some parts of the country, the recovery bypassed these areas. If Schur, ACCE and their allies are able to defy Wall Street in Richmond, the idea will spread quickly to other cities. ”We hope our city provides a model for other cities,” says Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, “and that this becomes a national movement.”