My landlord and I had become friends, but I finally had to ask him, “Was this house foreclosed on? And if so, why have you been taking my rent?” And he told me it wasn’t in foreclosure. Two hours later he called me. I guess he had a crisis of conscience. He said, “Come and take your rent check back. The house has been foreclosed on. I can’t do this to you anymore.” – Reggie Fuller
The story above is part of We Shall Not Be Moved, a multimedia documentary project on life after foreclosure in Boston.
Dorchester resident Reggie Fuller and Boston documentarian Kelly Creedon met each other at City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) in 2009.
Fuller came to CLVU to learn his options; the bank that owned his building was rejecting his family’s rent checks and trying to evict them. Fuller worked with City Life to find a solution for his situation. Now he helps others.
Creedon came to CVLU to meet people like Fuller; she was starting work on a documentary project that would chronicle the lives of those who had experienced foreclosure. Creedon’s project offers some answers to an important question in this still-unfolding economic crisis: What happens after foreclosure?
City Life/Vida Urbana works directly with individuals and communities facing foreclosure in Boston. The organization employs an effective strategy involving community organizing, legal defense, and public protest to keep people in their homes. Their strategy presents an important model for communities trying to prevent the devastation that comes with foreclosure.
Q: Reggie, what was it like to have someone tell your story?
A: It was empowering. My first thought was, “why would she want to interview me?” [looks at Creedon] Even when you first came to my house I asked myself, “How is this going to help?” I figured my story would be put into some library somewhere and wouldn’t reach anybody. But then I put that negativity aside because I wanted to do whatever I could to help people facing foreclosure.
When Kelly came with her equipment, I was a little intimidated. My wife and I tried to feed Kelly to death to make all of us more comfortable. She came early in the day, and I took Kelly around the neighborhood so I could show her other houses that had been foreclosed on. I was so glad that she was willing to do that because, I thought, “Here’s this white woman that’s willing to come into the neighborhood and walk around with me, a total stranger”. At that point, to me it was like, “We’re both going to take a chance here.” That motivated me more to do the interview. I saw that she had an honest and sincere interest in what was going on.
Q: Did you have moment in your foreclosure experience when you decided that you would be willing to tell your story?
A: I had a turning point at the second City Life meeting I went to. I heard the shame people felt, and how people were keeping this from their relatives, and I decided that I wasn’t going to be like that. I wasn’t going to be a casualty of the foreclosure crisis. I was going to come out of the closet and be the poster child if it would help other people to not be ashamed.
Q: Kelly, how did you decide on a media format for the stories you collected?
A: City Life encourages people to stand up and tell their own stories. I wanted to take what they were using as a model for empowerment and build on that. What I was really moved by was people’s personal voices. There is something intimate and moving about about voice, hearing a person’s own voice telling his story. I wanted that intimacy for people who were on the outside of this movement so that they would have a window into foreclosure, to know how this impacts actual people.
Q: Kelly, are you a member of this movement?
A: It would be dishonest to say that I’m not a member, but I think the quality of my membership is different. It’s a fine line. Having one foot inside and one foot outside gives me the advantage of an outsider perspective. The majority of this movement, and the center of the struggle, are people directly impacted by foreclosure who are making a difficult choice to stand up against the banks. And then around that center are all of the organizations and individuals who are supporting them in different ways in taking that stance. Trying to figure out my role had been a challenge; I’m not an advocate, or an organizer, although I think there are elements of both of those things that come across in my work. What I bring to the movement are my skills as a storyteller, and I think my goal has been to support the movement by using those skills to hold up the example of the way people are coming together here.
I’m not trying to sell myself as objective, and I don’t know if I believe in the idea of objectivity. This project is a cross between oral history and journalistic advocacy and personal narrative — personal narratives about this issue that will inform the public dialogue.
Q: What would you say to someone who says that this project doesn’t tell the whole story about foreclosure?
A (Reggie): I would invite him to City Life.
A (Kelly): The piece of the story I’m telling is the movement piece – how people ended up in foreclosure from their perspectives, and what happens after foreclosure. This movement, what’s going on here in Boston and at City Life, presents one model for what can happen after foreclosure. This crisis is still happening. The United States is stuck in a place where all of these people are in bad loans. What the government is offering doesn’t work for people. We don’t have a solution yet. We as a country need to be able to accept collective responsibility for this problem, and the group that hasn’t yet taken responsibility is the banks.