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Arrested Occupy demonstrator aims to disrupt foreclosure sales
Todd Penland has a job.
He pays his bills. He lives at a house in Manchester. He is well-kept and smiles often.
To many, he would appear to be a satisfied 49-year-old South Kitsap resident.
But he’s not.
Not because he was arrested for the first time ever last Friday outside the Kitsap County Administration Building as part of an Occupy Bremerton protest. Penland isn’t satisfied because he sees systemic problems in, among other things, the way big national banks handle home foreclosures, both in Kitsap County and nationwide.
“Nine out of 10 of banks can’t prove they own the homes they are foreclosing on,” he said. “So when I go to the auctions, there’s a 90 percent chance I’m disrupting an illegal sale.”
The auctions Penland is talking about are weekly foreclosure auctions held outside the Administrative Building. Third parties called trustees — acting on behalf of a bank — auction off foreclosed properties, trying to sell them before they become bank-owned.
According to Ron Turner of Ron Turner Real Estate Group, a business that specializes in buying and selling distressed properties, 23 properties from Kitsap County will be auctioned off this week, seven of them located in Port Orchard.
It was at one of these public auctions that Penland was arrested by Port Orchard police last Friday for disorderly conduct. Penland, by his own admission, was trying to “disrupt” the auctioneer, using a megaphone to shout over the property listings and dollar amounts.
Penland and four others, also trying to disrupt the auction with whistles and chants, were taking part in a protest organized by the Occupy movement. The movement, which according to www.occupytogether.com protests with the goal of ending greed and corruption in the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, has started protesting at foreclosure auctions across the country in “NOISEMAKING EVENTS”, held with the purpose of stopping the auctions through disruption.
Penland, however, is not what many would classify as a noisemaker usually associated with the Occupy protesters. He’s middle-aged and has a job, far from the anarchy-loving, young protesters that one might conjure up when thinking about an arrested protester.
“I’m much more representative of a representative of this movement than the media would have you believe,” Penland said, mentioning grandmothers and marching nuns that have taken part in Occupy protests across the country. “There are many, many, many more people like me.”
Penland’s motivation to protest might also seem unique. Himself not imminently threatened by foreclosure or bankruptcy, Penland said his desire to protest comes from “a spiritual side.”
“I look at Jesus and the Buddha and think they would look at all the suffering and think something needs to be done,” he said.
And a large part of the suffering, at least to Penland, has to do with people losing their homes.
According to Turner, 50 percent of all home sales in Kitsap County come from distressed properties; properties that are in foreclosure, bank-owned, or on the market for less than they are worth. Real estate analysts CoreLogic recently reported that nearly 1 in 5 homes in Kitsap County are underwater, meaning homeowners owe more on a mortgage than the home is worth.
People all across the peninsula people are struggling to keep their homes, a problem made worse, he said, by the foreclosure auctions happening outside of the county buildings.
Penland’s sentiment that nine out of 10 of the homes auctioned at the courthouse are done illegally could easily be exaggerated. But according to a release from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, his idea that some of the auction might not operate completely to law might be true.
According to the release, state law says all of the trustees auctioning off the properties must hold an office and a telephone number in the state. This allows for people trying to save their properties with a last-minute payment to contact the trustee and stop the foreclosure sale. Washington’s Attorney General’s Office — already investigating foreclosure trustees for unlawful practices — noticed in April that many of the trustee firms handling the auctions did not keep an office and or phone number in Washington, making contacting them last minute very difficult.
Turner, who makes a living off the buying and selling properties at auctions, said confusion in the process, whether between the individuals losing their homes or the banks selling the deed, is rampant.
“It’s just crazy,” Turner said. “Nobody seems at the helm.”
Penland said inability for the trustees to provide a local office points to the fact that many trustees — who are supposed to be a disinterested third party — and large, corporate banks are tied together. He said an immediate stop to the foreclosure sales outside of the County Administration Building must occur.
“My immediate goal is a moratorium on foreclosures in this state until a system could be put in place where borrowers have a real opportunity to protect their properties without having to deal with individuals who have a real or perceived bias,” he said.
A goal to stop auctions specific, he said, is more specific then some of the other, far-reaching ideas Occupy movement. But again goals, just like the kind of people in the protests, are often times jumbled by the media, he said.
Penland knows that his noisy protests outside the Administration Building could be perceived as an attack on the auctioneers and the buyers. Something, he said, is regrettable.
“We’re out there protesting their roles, not them,” he said.
When asked if his arrest at last Friday’s auction would deter him or Occupy Bremerton from protesting again, he said not at all. He’ll be positioned in front of the office every week until the auctions stop.
“I told the police I’d see you next Friday,” he said.