On Keith Sadler, the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League, and the Foreclosure Crisis

Left: the property that was once the home of the barricaded Keith Sadler

When I first heard yesterday about the decision by Keith Sadler to barricade himself inside his foreclosed house, I thought I would pass on writing about the situation. After all, I reasoned, most of the local media had already weighed in on the matter, and I have a ton of exams to grade, and I have some daylilies to plant.

Excuses ad nauseum.

However, after reading some of the news pieces and scratching my head at the misleading and superficial coverage, I decided to take a drive out to Stony Ridge and talk with Keith and his supporters in the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League.

I should add that I have met Keith Sadler at least a half-dozen times in my work as a journalist, and I have known him to be a tireless activist for many causes. Though I am sure I disagree with him on many issues, I sympathize with his plight, and he has been taking a shellacking from misinformed people in the media and the blogosphere the past few days. However, at least the story is gaining some significant traction, and at last count Google News lists 142 media outlets carrying the story in some form. Gauging from the jump in site traffic on my own site from the initial posting of this article, it is clear that Keith Sadler's actions have attracted a great deal of attention.

Keith has been joined in his protest by over a dozen supporters, five of whom are sealed in the house he once called his home.

Left: tents housing supporters of Keith Sadler

In talking with a young man named Tyler, I speculated as to what might be the strategy of Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, the man charged with carrying out the eviction order.

"If he's trying to wait us out, he'll be waiting a long time," Tyler said.

Indeed, in the two hours I talked with people and took pictures at the Fremont Pike home, several people arrived with food and other supplies. A well-heeled local business contractor brought several cases of bottled water for the group, a reminder that that the issue of the American foreclosure crisis crosses many ideological boundaries.

The barricaded house sits at the junction of East Broadway and US-20 in this sleepy rural hamlet, and honking horns of supportive motorists interrupted the morning songs of cardinals and robins. Activist Wesley Flowers noted that a number of other homeowners in foreclosure have stopped by in the past two days to offer support, and that Keith's house will join several other vacant homes in Stony Ridge.

"This lovely little slice of Americana is going to end up looking like the worst neighborhoods in Toledo's North End if the foreclosure crisis continues," he observed.

One of the chief misconceptions that people have about Keith Sadler is that he is "trying to get something for nothing," said Flowers.

"Keith is not trying to to get a free house from the bank. He tried to negotiate a mutually beneficial plan with the bank and failed," he said. "Foreclosure is going to happen to him, he knows this, and all he is trying to do is make a statement about the plight of millions of Americans like him."

The real estate marketer RealtyTrac noted that almost 10 percent of American mortgages are in some stage of delinquency, and across the country foreclosure filings on 2.8 million properties occurred in 2009. This figure is up 21 percent from 2008 and a whopping 120 percent from 2007.

Left: protest signs in front of Keith Sadler's foreclosed home

The record number of foreclosures, noted Flowers, is also having deleterious ripple effects in other areas of the local economy.

"Groups like food banks and homeless shelters face demands far beyond their capacities, and local and state governments have been disinclined to provide extra help to marginalized groups like the homeless," Flowers said. "In 2008 in Lucas County approximately 1,937 people competed for the 400 beds available in homeless shelters, and from my conversations with local shelters, the number of homeless is exponentially worse."

In my own middle class neighborhood in West Toledo, there are almost 1,700 homes in some stage of foreclosure. On my street there are quite a few vacant houses, which was a rare sight before 2008, and I have a vacant house right next door to my own. While staunch defenders of private property rights might cringe at Keith Sadler's radical tactics, his actions are certainly sparking additional debate about the largely unsolved problem about the many millions of vacant residential properties in the United States.

The Toledo Foreclosure Defense League has a UStream account set up for video updates. People who want to help Keith Sadler and his supporters are encouraged to stop by the house at 5947 Fremont Pike with food and beverages, and anyone who wants to carry a picket is welcome to do so.