The Foreclosure Garden Story

This blog is about gardening on a foreclosed property. Posts are mainly about the gardens progress with the occasional post about foreclosures.
To get up to speed on the project go to the first few posts which tell the story of the property and how the garden came into being.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

the Foreclosure Garden Project in perspective

Months after the garden was created and then removed, I'd like to say that I've had time to reflect on the project but I have been very busy with new projects and following the news of our national foreclosure scandal. The issue is first and foremost in much of the news. The banks are finally being taken to task on their foreclosure policies. Elizabeth Warren is in the house. Change may be possible. My husband and I continue to meet our mortgage responsibilities and now have 20 fruit trees planted on our tiny tiny property!
What is clear to me is that I have two months of fantastic memories of the garden versus one negative day. Those are good odds. I had a great time meeting my neighbors, talking with them about growing vegetables and the history of the neighborhood. I learned about recipes and what crops are favored in the many countries represented by our population. We all took an "easy come easy go" response to the destruction that took place when talking with each other in the days after its demise. I didn't feel devastated, just a little sad and a little resigned.
The house is still for sale. There were a flurry of visits by perspective buyers in the first days after the lawn went in and the sale sign went up. A couple in their late 40's came by to look at the place. The wife was very tired and came and sat on my stoop. the husband was very excited about the possibilities for the place. I was out tending the worlds smallest community garden in the parkway when he approached me to talk about the neighborhood.
"are you the green thumb around here?"
"One of them." I replied.
"If we get this house I really want to put in a garden in front. Could you help me with that?"
I couldn't help but laugh.
"well actually..." I began.
And although there were many offers on the property none have been acceptable to the bank.
Now the block is in the midst of a tagging war that I won't pretend to understand, but there is gun fire every weekend. the sidewalk in front of the foreclosure garden is covered in tags.
As I wrote in an earlier post, the taggers I have met are in the 12-14 range, young boys, accompanied by an older (16?) innitiated gang member. Young boys from rival gangs come on to this street and tag and are shot at by other taggers defending the street. The rivals shoot back.
The other day some detectives came by to look at the graffiti. They asked if I knew this tagger calling himself "ReCess."
It triggered the laugh cry confusion response induced by absurdly sad and yet incredibly telling events. The police are after a tagger named "ReCess." ( my friend Holly suggested maybe he was hangin' with his boys "timeout" and "teetertotter") these are little kids shooting at each other with guns. They are attacking and defending the area surrounding the homes of some powerful gang leaders. Gang leaders with little children of their own. What a mess.
Yet there are other ex gang members who will talk to the police in broad daylight on the street because they have little kids now and they don't want bullets flying around. Why are guns allowed in cities? Its so crazy. Our mural wasn't tagged, which is good news. And the Rampart Police department now have a mural program to decrease tagging starting up. I have written to volunteer with this program (scroll down to "Special Programs".
I continue to garden in the street and in my front yard. I greet or wave to most people who walk by. Little kids still stop at my gate to catch a glimpse of my funny looking chickens. I have given away lots of seedlings to people in the area. Gonzalo is saving seeds from some excellant giant yellow tomatoes I grew. I am helping my neighbor Cristina with a compost pile so she can make her own topsoil. Maria brought me a giant dragonfruit tree in bloom along with an avocado tree she started. My back neighbors gave me two mystery seedlings I have been growing now for two years and our Columbian neighbor excitedly ID'd it for me. Evidently it is a fruit tree called Inga Edulis that grows a long bean shaped fruit with the texture of cotton candy inside and the flavor of vanilla ice cream!!!! They have also been giving me lots of pomogranites from their tree and two tiny pomogranite seedlings.
As a Master Gardener I am required to do a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer work per year. In this capacity I am working with a local Filipino church group to start a vegetable garden on their grounds which reflects the recipes made by Filipino Americans. I am also working at LACAN, an organization on skid row, to create a roof-top vegetable garden in homemade self watering containers. And I continue to fantasize about the giant empty lot at the intersection of Coronado Street and Temple. I've heard its been empty for over 20 years. Imagine a giant community garden there!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

adopt a sunflower day

I am giving away a couple hundred sunflower seedlings and great pumpkin seedlings (just in time for Halloween!) for Coronado Street residents and environs. Hopefully people will plant the sunflowers in the parkway along the street. If you are in the area stop by for a couple of seedlings! The sunflowers are from seeds I saved from a massive sunzilla I grew last year that reached over 12 feet. I will be going door to door with them along the street in the next few days.
My neighbor J who had helped with the watering of the foreclosure garden stopped by and gave me apples from a relatives tree. He lives next door with his wife R and his two sons, both at Riverside. He had a daughter who died of Leukemia 12 years ago. She loved sunflowers and he often brings them to her grave site. The anniversary of her death is coming up on the 21st. J has Leukemia as well. He asked about my husbands recent operation and I told him he needed two more operations but that his insurance was refusing to pay for the last so he couldn't schedule the follow ups until the matter was resolved. He had the same problems. It wore one down, this constant bureaucratic harassment, especially when one is sick. J is a very good gardener and his balcony looks down into our back yard. But recently his landlord has said he can not keep any plants so he has had to give all the plants away. I wonder if it is a way of pressuring him to leave. I know that he has been there for many many years.
G and her family lived next door until they moved in with us. The landlord, who was her cousin, first started pressuring G to leave by making her get rid of all her plants. G had an amazing collecting of fruit trees. Avocados and guavas lined the back of the building and an alleyway. It was like a tropical forest. I was so amazed when I first saw it. It turned out that the landlords wife's daughter had fallen for G's son and they had run off and gotten married! The landlord was furious and kicked G and her family (son, daughter, daughter in law, husband and brother) and her 4 boxers out of the building. The whole family moved into our duplex rental- a one room studio- while they looked for a place. They bartered help with the garden and planted avocados and guavas as presents. They had come from Cuba in the 1990's- Cuba's special period as they called it- after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of most of their oil. I asked them to watch the documentary Power of Community; How Cuba Survived Peak Oil and tell me if it was an accurate depiction of Cuba. They said they would but warned me that they had never seen an accurate depiction of Cuba in America and were highly skeptical. But after watching it they were very excited. they felt it was truthful depiction. They miss Cuba. G's husband told me that when they first came to America and went to a grocery store they thought they had died and gone to heaven. there were big beautiful tomatoes in the middle of winter! But when they brought the produce home they were deeply disappointed in its flavor. It had looked so good and tasted watery. G's brother had spent many years farming organically in Cuba and had come over more recently. He said that in America, we give too much water to the ripening tomato, making them bigger and heavier and thus more expensive but less flavorful.
The landlord next door has gotten rid of three of the four tenants of the fourplex in the past year. He's an old man and owns many of the apartment buildings in the area and a couple of vacant lots. I know he has never fixed them up and never made repairs to the apartments. I am thinking about an accusation after one of my posts that I'm gentrifying the neighborhood. I think perhaps artists often do. I was once told by a bank property assessor that gay men and artists do wonders for property values. The new residents who have moved in next door are Latinos. They are just paying a lot more rent than the previous people. So does that count as gentrification? Its such a difficult accusation to hear. The gut reaction is to try and refute it, but what if its true? What if I am gentrifying the neighborhood with my murals and plants and street art openings and such? Its hard to contemplate especially since we are just scraping by and could so easily suffer foreclosure.
What if Bill's operations aren't covered? I heard that medical costs are the number one cause of foreclosures.
We finally decided we needed to replace our car which had self immolated on the 101 last year. Since then we have been riding motorcycles, but after an unfortunate yet potentially fatal incident with a bag of kitty litter strapped somewhat hastily to the back of my bike I had to admit we needed a car. We went out and test drove a 1972 BMW that had been turned into an electric vehicle and then we went to a smart car dealership. A new basic smart car lists for $11,900. Add on all the tax and it comes to 15 something. It was perfect. When we went to finance the car we were denied. Bill prides himself in his excellent credit score. He is the guy credit card companies hate. He always pays on time. Always. So why couldn't we finance the car? It turns out that because we applied for (and were denied at last try) the "Obama" Making Homes Affordable" program Chase had reported us to the credit bureau and now my husbands perfect credit score was in the toilet. Understand that we have never been late with a mortgage payment. All we did was apply for a program to reduce our monthly payments slightly. And we applied because (A) we qualified (B) Bill needs operations this year and will be out of work for perhaps a few months. (C) we needed to buy a new car.
This leaves me thinking about my own garden. Will it prove to be a foreclosure garden as well?
The sprinklers are back on over at 820 Coronado. The yard is now graced with a big "for sale" sign. So it goes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The new sod

Today the new sod arrived as well as sprinklers to deliver water to the whole neighborhood! A homeless man was standing in front of the gate "showering" when I got home from work. Water is currently streaming down the gutter by the gallon. If this continues I'll see if I can divert some to the parkway garden.
My last conversation with the realtor revealed a few worrying details. First he said that the gang members had actually rented the house from him!!!! Everyone thought they had taken it over and were squatting and perhaps that's what happened eventually. I then wondered if I could actually figure out a price for how much tax payer money was spent getting the gang out of 820. Helicopters every weekend. Closing down the street on multiple occasions, subsequent investigations, etc, etc.
Now that the house has all that sod and the homeless have a nice cool place to shower maybe some nice family will move in and I can give them a pumpkin seedling.
I did go to my local B of A, expecting to be brushed off or given a phone number to an endless phone tree but instead was taken into the office of a banking center manager and was able to give an account of what happened along with a picture of the henchman. He took down a report and gave me his card.
A second neighbor told me today that he had also walked by henchman before he had the garden pulled out and said he was yelling into his cell phone about the garden so he was enraged by it before I went over there. This is some comfort since I thought he was just totally bonkers. I wonder if he would have been equally enraged had he gone to the house to find the front yard piled high with trash and weeds...
I was inspired to make use of one of the bullet holes in my house though! I am using it to tie up my errant bougainvillea!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blind Guerilla Gardener takes to the street

The foreclosure Garden blog is actively looking for stories about gardening during this housing bubble burst depression. I would like to feature stories about people gardening on foreclosed properties or gardening to help avoid foreclosure.
This is an inspiring video of a blind gardener beautifying his street in England. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The day After

This morning I was thinking about the conversation I had with the real estate guy Phil Missig who has a site called I had called him after the garden was destroyed and told him how disappointed I was with his decision to let his henchman destroy the garden. He claims it wasn't his decision but I get the feeling it was. He said the henchman was a "really nice guy" and "was great when you need someone like that on your side." hmmm.... He then went on to say that he was trying to get the remaining tenants out so he could sell the property.
So I did a little research this morning on tenants rights and found out that neither he nor the bank can legally evict the remaining tenants. They have lived there for 20 years. Here's the law for LA (this is different in different states and in California, in different counties):
You cannot be evicted in a foreclosure if:
1) You entered into your lease before the current mortgage was recorded: The first
exception applies if you entered into a lease before the mortgage that is the
subject of the current foreclosure was finalized. This can occur:
• If you entered into a lease with a prior owner of the property (e.g. the owner
you entered into the lease with is NOT the owner that holds the current
mortgage that is the subject of the foreclosure)
• the owner you entered into a lease with, refinanced (took out a loan on the
property) the property after you entered into a lease, which resulted in
In such cases,
The new owner may have to honor the lease or work out an arrangement
with you.
You are responsible to the new owner for rent from the date of sale
In some cases you may have to pay rent again and then attempt to recover
the overpayment from the previous owner.

So I printed this up and went to visit the neighbors in question. We had a nice chat and I gave them my phone number along with the info I printed just in case they should ever need it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Day in the Garden

This morning the garden was doing beautifully. The mortgage tomatoes were gigantic,

and the corn was coming along so nicely.
But then I noticed a truck pull in to the back. My neighbor A came over and said he was concerned. Some man had been talking angrily about the garden. We decided to go talk to him. I was optimistic. The last crew that had been there had sealed up the crawl space under the house and some kittens were trapped inside. C who feeds and keeps track of all the neighborhood cats had come over and the guy had unscrewed the grates and let us put a have a heart trap in. We got one cat in the trap and had made sure all the cats were safetly out.

I went over and introduced myself as a neighbor who is concerned about the house and property. I asked if he had a business card. He told me to f*#k off and get off his property. I said I thought this was a foreclosed property but that if he owned it than I would leave. He said he worked for Bank of America and then threatened to call the police and swore at me in a very threatening manner. I tried to tell him I was just a concerned neighbor and if he were there to take care of the place than that was great but we had had some problems in the past with squatters. We have all heard stories of people showing up at foreclosed houses and stealing all the copper. I knew that Bank of America did not own the property, so I was suspicious.
The Mean Man reporting to the police that I am waving a gun at him...

I'm not sure if he was perhaps drunk because I didn't feel I had said anything by this point that was inappropriate, but he said he was going to call the police. I said I just wanted a business card from him and I would be on my way. He then said his name was Phil Missig, the realtor whose sign in the window promises the property will be "coming soon". Since I have met Phil Missig (his partner had sold us our house!), I was now very worried. He proceeded to call the police and report that I was waving a gun at him. A and I were thunderstruck at this guy's crazy behavior.

I then called Phil Missig and told him there was This Man claiming to be Him and claiming to work for B of A. He explained that B of A has some deal with the Bank of New York- which only owns part of the property but that Phil is trying to persuade the bank to sell. It all seems wildly complicated and doubtful since ownership is actually unclear. As I understand it, mortgages were bundled like stocks and sold off in pieces to make the banks seem as if they had less bad loans then they did. The neighbors had planted a small garden in the front yard as a way of keeping the house looking tidy. I asked Phil if this were alright and if he would let the garden remain. He said of course and that it was great that the community was taking care of the yard in this way. He then called The Man (who never told me his name), and told him to leave the garden.

So this is how the banks take care of their property...

It is a sad day for The Foreclosure Garden and for the people who have enjoyed watching it grow for the past few months. We managed to keep the building graffiti-free for three months.
I am not sure what to make of Phil. Evidently part of the property extends back to a house that enters by way of Merwin Street. He is actively trying to evict long term tenants so he can sell the property. I don't know them but so many renters have been driven from their homes, first because of the housing bubble, and now due to foreclosures. Just because a bank owns a property why should the tenants pay for their bad policies? He told me he asked the Mean Man to preserve the garden. I called Phil and told him I felt he was to blame for the garden's destruction. He called me back and apologized, but then said it was The Bank and not him who had hired the guy.

I never did get the guys name. I should try and get a contact name at B of A from Phil. I urged him to hire a local gardener to take care of the place but Phil says that's not his job.

I have started some sunflower seeds- about two hundred Sunzillas. Maybe that will be next? I will see what happens with the space.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NPR's Marketplace modification madness interview

I sent my post from 6/11/10 as a letter to politicians and various news sources. Last week, while driving across the country from Vermont in a rental truck, I got an email from Marketplace asking if I could come by their Los Angeles studio to talk with them. Somewhere on RT 40, we said we couldn't make it but they asked if we could swing by an affiliate station in Albuquerque. I read part of my post (slightly edited) and then answered questions about our experiences with Chase Bank.
The show will air this weekend. You can also hear it online and read the letter at the marketplace website.