ROGERS PARK — The home was perfect for Maria Calvillo and her grandchildren: three bedrooms, a modest backyard and garage on Ridge Boulevard, just down the street from the day care she runs.
So three years ago, she moved in and made it her home, painting it and fixing busted pipes.
But there was a problem: She doesn't own the two-story wood-frame house at 7245 N. Ridge Blvd. — and the home's rightful owner, CitiMortgage Inc., now wants her and her family members out.
But Calvillo said she believes she has a right to stay in the home. When she moved in she had just been evicted from another Rogers Park home, and this home was neglected and being used as a teen hangout.
"I saw teenagers coming in and out and a lot of garbage out back," she said of the home, which over the last few years became a community center of sorts called the "Ridge House" by its patrons. "I'm fighting for this house."
The family flew under the bank's radar for at least a year. Calvillo said she spent $650 fixing busted pipes and a flooded basement. They painted the interior, hauled in furniture and cut the overgrown grass.
Then they were served court papers notifying them of eviction proceedings, she said. On Dec. 31, they were told by a judge that an eviction would be coming.
Ben Woodard says neighbors are rallying behind the Calvillo's:
Calvillo said after being approved for a mortgage, she offered the bank $200,000 for the home, but the bank turned down the offer.
Now the 56-year-old said, she, her son and grandchildren aren't going without a fight. On Monday — expecting a visit from the Cook County Sheriff's Office — activists with Communities United against Foreclosure and Eviction occupied the home with the intention of refusing eviction orders.
"They've been here a long time. This house is part of the community, and we'd like to remain a park of the community," said activist Sabrina Morey, 37, who sat at a dining room table, monitoring a closed-circuit video feed trained on the home's front door to pick up any police activity.
Morey said Calvillo and her family have hosted urban gardening events, clothing drives and movie screenings at the home for people in the neighborhood. This week, the activists said they'd be holding workshops there on various social justice issues.
Kids from the family's day care, El Ruisenor Learning Center, also have visited the home to garden in the backyard. Calvillo's day care also faced eviction in 2013 before a benefactor stepped in and bought the house from Calvillo.
Calvillo said she wanted to negotiate a deal for the Ridge House to maintain what's been built there.
"I'm not lazy. I can pay. Let me pay," she said. "They don't want to talk."
A Citi spokeswoman said the bank sometimes partners with community groups "with successful track records."
"Having reviewed this matter several times over the past few years, we have determined the property is not appropriate either for donation or a discounted sale," the spokeswoman said.
Calvillo said a judge set a hearing Wednesday and she plans to "ask for more time" to win over the bank.
"If I have a home, I can help others," she said. "A home is always open."
While it might seem like the bank could simply have the family thrown out of the home, Kelli Dudley, a Chicago attorney who specializes on eviction and foreclosure cases, said the Calvillos have more rights than ordinary trespassers.
"You cannot just have someone removed for trespassing from a home that they occupy long term," she said.
In fact, she said she was still representing a couple who moved into a home on nearby Birchwood Avenue, spending thousands on repairs, even though they didn't own it. The new property owners — a national company that buys foreclosed homes to fix up and rent — called the police and had them thrown out.
Calvillo's brother, Gerardo Calvillo, 44, said he had also lived in the house on Ridge until a couple of weeks ago. He said he moved out to avoid being arrested.
The 44-year-old said his family's struggle represents a larger problem in America.
"It's not about the money. They have money. It's about housing," he said. "There's more empty houses than homeless people."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: