In South Florida, Occupy movement targets housing crisis

After months of noisy protests and public-space encampments, South Florida’s Occupy movement has quietly shifted its focus to “occupying” houses to support homeowners caught in the foreclosure crisis.

The initiative represents a new tactic for Occupy groups in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach County and Miami that in recent weeks have struggled to maintain momentum.

“The only thing that works is public outrage and media exposure of bad practices by banks,” said Lisa Epstein, 46, a nurse who became an activist after almost losing her own West Palm Beach home to what she calls fraudulent foreclosure practices.

Among several successful interventions claimed by Occupy forces is the case of Marie and Jean Bien-Amie, who were notified that on Jan. 3 they would be evicted from the Coconut Creek home they built 11 years ago because they had fallen $27,000 behind on a second mortgage.

“I told them that I have the money, but they said no, they had to take the house,” said Marie Bien Amie, 41, a mother of four whose oldest son serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Dozens of Occupy supporters rallied at the house last month and alerted the news media, and days later Wells Fargo halted its eviction plans.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Natalie Brown said Thursday that the lender would “continue to work with the Bien-Aimes to understand their financial situation,” and that the bank stood ready “to consider all viable options to help them avoid eviction.”

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