Occupy Our Homes: Take Back the Land Has Lessons For Home ‘Liberators’

December 14, 2011 at 1:20 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Land Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , , , )

Max Rameau is led away by a City of Miami police officer when he was arrested during a protest against the evictions being carried out at an apartment complex on June 15, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Rameau, who is the cofounder of the activist movement Take Back the Land, tried to prevent the eviction of tenants from the complex but was unsuccessful. According to the activists, the bank, which now owns the apartment complex, is forcing the current residents out and they have no other homes to move to. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

By , Huffington Post

MIAMI — Two years ago the Ramos family moved into a small house in the Little Haiti neighborhood here. They did so without a title, a lease, or permission from the property’s owner.

After the father’s construction company shut down, a victim of the housing crash, they couldn’t pay their rent. Their possessions were literally thrown on the street.

“For a time we were basically living in our car or at our friends’ houses — pretty much without a home,” Mr. Ramos said.

Now the Ramos family, naturalized citizens who spoke through an interpreter and asked HuffPost not to use their first names for fear of being kicked out, have succeeded in making the house a home. They cleared out the trash that drug users had piled in mounds. With a leafy lawn and a couple of dogs barking happily, the place looks pretty comfortable.

“For myself as a mother in the United States, this is the place that I’ve been the happiest in,” Mrs. Ramos said. “And in my consciousness this feels right. Instinctively it feels right.”

Many would simply call it squatting. But Take Back the Land, the Miami-based group whose members helped the family move in, calls it a home “liberation.”

According to the Census Bureau, in 2010 there were 1.6 million homes sitting vacant in Florida. A 2010 report estimated that 57,643 people go homeless on any given night. In between that unused capacity and unfilled need stands the law, which protects banks’ and other owners’ property rights.

On Tuesday, Occupy Wall Street will take the group’s unorthodox anti-foreclosure tactics national. Activists will move to “Occupy Our Homes” in a nationwide series of civil disobedience actions, challenging the big banks over the thousands of vacant homes across the country that lie empty even in the midst of a homelessness and foreclosure crisis.

“Here we have a chance to occupy and liberate: it’s a one-two punch and that’s what works,” said Max Rameau, the Haitian-born activist who has braved and sometimes endured arrest while defending families from eviction as part of Take Back the Land, a group that he helped found. The group is now listed on the Occupy Our Homes website as an “ally.”

Rameau’s “liberations” mostly helped people of color. “The Occupy side,” Rameau said, “has mainly happened with young whites.”

Now he hopes that with the help of the Occupy movement, community groups like his can mainstream their fight against the banks. But as Occupiers move into neighborhoods hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, they will be greeted by a confounding knot of problems that Take Back the Land has been wrestling with for years: race, responsibility and property.

Take Back the Land’s struggles in Miami started in a vacant lot in Liberty City. Fed up with gentrification, the group moved on October 2006 to set up a makeshift village of shanties made from shipping pallets and cardboard. They quickly rebranded the plot Umoja Village; the first word is Swahili for “unity.”

They were responding to the human impact of the housing bubble, what Rameau calls a mentality of “gentrification: buy low, fix up, sell high.”

In April 2007 the village burnt to the ground in a furiously quick fire. No one was seriously harmed. Just as it was forced out of its Liberty City lot, however, Take Back the Land was expanding its scope. The group’s playing field had become the whole state of Florida, hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

In February 2007, even as foreclosure filings dropped nationally over the previous month by 4 percent, Florida’s shot up by 63.5 percent, according to RealtyTrac. It was a harbinger of things to come.

After Mary Trody’s mother stopped making payments on the family’s house northwest of Miami, her family was evicted in February 2009 — but Take Back the Land and another local group that Trody is a member of, the Miami Workers Center, very publicly moved them back in, with TV stations, a crew sent by filmmaker Michael Moore, and the Miami Herald looking on.

The eviction was halted.

“If it’s worth fighting for, yes, I would say the same thing: take arrests,” Trody said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to make a difference. If we organize. If we stand together and try to show the world.”

The struggles Take Back the Land has encountered since late 2007 in legalizing their “liberations” may serve as lessons for the people taking part in Occupy Our Homes. Trody’s family house, for example, has seen a parade of four owners since the eviction defense, none of whom have been willing to settle on terms to let them stay.

Today, Take Back the Land has stopped moving in families to newly “liberated” properties. Rameau and other core members have left or are leaving Miami for other opportunities.

“We haven’t won homes. We haven’t changed people’s lives,” Rameau said. Without more public pressure on banks, he said, Take Back the Land’s successes could only be incremental.

“We were only doing defense,” Rameau said.

On Tuesday, with the help of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Our Homes will begin. Activists in dozens of cities — some members of the Take Back the Land affiliates that have sprouted in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Portland, Washington, DC, and more — will be following the group’s example. They hope to shame banks into cutting mortgage payments or creating a “right to rent” foreclosed properties.

As actions begin, however, Take Back the Land members say the Occupiers should know what they’re getting into.

“Leak in the roof, water, electricity’s out, whatever minor issue — I think it’s something we did not necessarily foresee as becoming our responsibility, in terms of providing social services, which is what it ended up being in addition to it being a political organization. And that’s very stressful,” said Mamyrah Prosper, another activist with Take Back the Land.

The toll on families who move into “liberated” houses, too, can sometimes be taxing. Since Trody’s family defended their house, they have been living in it without any sort of agreement from its owners, under constant threat of eviction or arrest. The Ramoses have had their house broken into twice.

If occupiers are white, meanwhile, they may also end up moving into the black or Latino communities that have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

Rebecca Wood, a white, 30-year-old self-described anarchist who is a supporter of Take Back the Land, said the group “was very intentionally black-led and focused on working within black communities and working towards self-determination for those communities.”

“I think that that’s a pretty different goal than continuing the occupation through the winter,” she said.

Rameau drew a contrast between the mostly white “occupiers” and the more diverse “liberators.” The occupiers, he thinks, should take actions like sitting down in banks in “direct confrontation with core parts of the system.”

“How does that manifest itself for the liberate side?” he asked. “That manifests itself in home liberations.”

If and when the Occupiers move families into houses that they have not previously inhabited, they will be running up against some very strongly held beliefs about ownership.

The goal of Take Back the Land, Prosper said, was to change the framework: to make people think about “moving away from what’s legal versus illegal into just versus unjust.”

“Some of us just challenged the whole notion of private property, period,” said Prosper. “If you go that route so radically, you’re going to ostracize yourself.”

Still, there is precedent in the United States for squatters taking possession of homes. On New York’s Lower East side, residents were able to eventually gain control of buildings on East Seventh Street.

The Ramos family would welcome any help it can get. At the mention of the Occupy movement, Mrs. Ramos beams. She doesn’t ever want to leave her house, she said, “because as human beings we have the right to live dignified in a home.”

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‘Occupy’ protesters reclaiming foreclosed homes in 20 cities

December 7, 2011 at 12:16 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , )

Occupy Our Homes protest (Vocal New York)

By David Edwards, The Raw Story

The 99 percent movement, which has been evicted from many of their encampments across the country, is finding common cause with thousands of homeowners who are also being evicted from their homes.

Even though the movement has often been criticized for a lack of defined goals, Tuesday’s “Occupy Our Homes” action in at least 20 cities makes it clear that they are standing up to banks to reverse foreclosures.

“We’re in the neighborhood in New York City that had the highest number of foreclosure filings in 2010 to send a message that the economy is failing the 99 percent,” Vocal New York organizer Sean Barry told Raw Story from a Brooklyn neighborhood as about 200 protesters chanted in the background.

“We’re here because [there are] a lot of empty buildings owned by Wall Street banks and we’re going to liberate them.”

Tasha Glasgow, the single mother of a 9-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, was expected to be one of the first occupants of a reclaimed home. Barry said that Glasgow, who had been in and out of the shelter system in New York City, had been slated to get a Section 8 voucher before budget cuts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg put an end to that promise.

“We’ve gained access to the home, and we’ve got the support of the neighbors,” Barry explained. “They’re going to start occupying it. … And then, there’s going to be 24/7 eviction defense by Occupy Wall Street.”

There were over 40 events planned in more than 20 cities Tuesday, but that is just the beginning.

“When it comes to Wall Street’s control over our economy, our democracy and our lives, there’s few better examples than the housing crisis,” Barry noted. “Occupy Wall Street is going to continue to support this national Occupy Our Homes campaign, and both defend homeowners who are being threatened with eviction due to foreclosure, and to move families that need homes into vacant buildings that banks are just sitting on.”

David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he’s also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.


Occupy protesters take over foreclosed homes

Wall Street protesters to occupy foreclosed homes

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‘Occupy Our Homes’ Protesters Highlight Foreclosures Nationwide

December 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm (Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , )

By Arthur Delaney, Huffington Post

Bobby Hull is scheduled to be evicted from his Minneapolis house in February, but he won’t leave without a fuss. He’s invited 100 people from the local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Tuesday to protest his foreclosure.

Hull said he doesn’t know if the attention will help him win back his home, which Bank of America sold at a sheriff’s sale in August, but he considers the effort worthwhile no matter what.

“If I lose it, I lose it. But I might be able to open the door for somebody else,” Hull told HuffPost. “It might inspire somebody else to stand up and say, ‘Yeah, you’re right, what the banks are doing is wrong.'”

That’s the idea behind the action at Hull’s house: to draw attention to an unending foreclosure crisis. The rally is one of several events scheduled across the country as the Occupy Wall Street movement, defined in part by its broad critique of economic inequality, focuses in on the narrower issue of housing. Events like the rally at Hull’s house will occur in more than a dozen cities, according to organizers, who have received help from more traditional community organizing and labor groups.

The “Occupy Our Homes” protests come as banks face a reckoning for foreclosure malfeasance nationwide. A coalition of state law enforcement officials and the Obama administration have sought a settlement with the biggest lenders over rogue foreclosures and poor treatment of homeowners. But the talks, led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, have dragged on for longer than a year, and several state attorneys general have defected because they say the $25 billion settlement Miller’s seeking is too small and would let banks off the hook for too much bad business.

Click here to read the full article…

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#OccupyOurHomes #OWS #December6 #D6 – Get the word out!

December 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


On December 3rd, community activists and occupiers canvassed East New York, Brooklyn in preparation for December 6th National Day of Action.

Just from the few hours, conversing and handing out flyers, over 300 community members are already interested in being involved.

“This action is part of a national kick-off for a new frontier for the occupy movement: the liberation of vacant bank-owned homes for those in need, and the defense of families under threat of foreclosure and eviction. Actions will take place in more than 25 cities across the country…”


This is only the beginning.

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Occupy Homes

December 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , , , , )

New Coalition Links Homeowners, Activists in Direct Action to Halt Foreclosures:

From Democracy Now!

“The banks are occupying many of our homes. And we are removing the banks from their occupation, and we’re liberating those homes.” -Max Rameau

A loose-knit coalition of activists known as “Occupy Homes” is working to stave off pending evictions by occupying homes at risk of foreclosure when tenants enlist its support. The movement has recently enjoyed a number of successes. We speak with Monique White, a Minneapolis resident who is facing foreclosure and recently requested the help of Occupy Minneapolis. Now two dozen of its members are occupying her home in order to stave off eviction. We are also joined by Nick Espinosa, an organizer with Occupy Minneapolis, and Max Rameau, a key organizer with Take Back the Land, who for the past five years has worked on direct actions that reclaim and occupy homes at risk of foreclosure. “The banks are actually occupying our homes,” Rameau says. “This sets up for an incredible movement, where we have a one-two punch. On the one hand, we’re occupying them on their turf, and on the other, we’re liberating our own turf so that human beings can have access to housing, rather than them sitting vacant so that corporations can benefit from them sometime in the future.”

Read the full story here.

Related: Occupy defends the homefront

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From Foreclosure to Occupation: Tenants Organize To Beat Evictions

December 3, 2011 at 12:17 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , )

By Mira Luna, The Huffington Post

A group of low-income San Franciscans has come up with a positive, long term solution to the housing crisis that is causing millions of Americans to be evicted and some to embrace the “Occupy Homes” movement: buy the buildings.

In October 2011, residents of the Columbus United Cooperative (CUC) in San Francisco celebrated final approval of the ownership of their building as a permanently affordable, resident-owned limited-equity housing cooperative. The residents can now purchase shares in the co-op for only $10,000 in the heart of San Francisco (where most housing starts at $500,000) to become cooperative homeowners, though most earn less than 50 percent of area median income. Previous to the conversion they had been living in their building under the threat of eviction.

According to a Lender Processing Services report on November 18, “just under 6.3 million properties nationwide are either 30 or more days delinquent or in foreclosure.” Another study published in June by Templeton LPA states that the number of court orders to evict tenants have risen by 9% over the last year, and the number of tenants in serious arrears with their rental payments is up by 13%, with 2.1% of all tenancies in arrears nationwide.

Long waiting lists for public housing mean that people remain homeless or in shelters longer. The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that in 2007, before the economy went into full recession, the average stay in homeless shelters for households with children was 5.7 months. Rising foreclosures and tenant evictions have been helping to fuel the fire of the Occupy movement. “Occupy Homes” is a new offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that links homeowners with activists in direct action to halt foreclosures in some of the local strongholds across the country of the Occupy movement. Occupy Oakland has announced it will start occupying vacant homes starting in December and Occupy Portland is already starting to move into foreclosed homes. Homeless advocacy group “Homes Not Jails” is teaming up with Occupy San Francisco to turn abandoned hotels into homeless shelters.

After Occupy L.A. organized a vigil and camp at her home and occupied the local Fannie Mae office, Rose Gudiel was able to keep her and her disabled mother’s home from which they were being evicted, as the bank opened up to renegotiating their mortgage.

Chicago, New York and Minneapolis have branches of Occupy Homes, too.

Ohio Congresswoman Max Rameau, an organizer for Take Back the Land who began this work five years ago, says, “The banks are actually occupying our homes.”

But in the US, squatters have few rights and face an steep uphill battle to stay in the homes they’ve claimed. Owners of foreclosed homes might have some ability to bargain with banks if they can afford to, but many can’t, and others are being kicked out of rentals, especially as former homeowners are now moving down the housing chain and renting. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that “40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes are at risk of foreclosure. Squatting isn’t for everyone, in particular the sick, disabled, elderly and children, and living in substandard housing under threat of the police isn’t exactly ideal. Unless the mainstream joins Occupy Homes and the government starts recognizing squats of vacant and foreclosed properties, the movement will likely remain on the fringe.

Tenant-owned, cooperative housing can provide a more stable solution to the housing crisis. When the residents of the 21-unit Columbus United Cooperative (CUC) in San Francisco converted the building to a limited-equity housing cooperative, the low income, Chinese-speaking resident families were able to stay in their homes.

The San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT) used the limited-equity housing cooperative model to prevent eviction, which Director Tracy Parent says is a first.

“This building represents the community,” said longtime resident Miao Yan Wen. “It is important to take care of the low-income people who live here. There are many seniors who live in this building. If the building were torn down, they would have to move out of the neighborhood and lose their access to doctors, stores, services.”

Now that the building is a cooperative, she says,”I feel stable and safe.”

SFCLT Director Tracy Parent remarked, “This is a victory not just for these 21 families but for the greater community of San Francisco. Limited equity housing cooperatives ensure that other families can buy these homes for an affordable price in the future.”

SFCLT has several of buildings in the queue at various stages to become new housing cooperatives, including a rental coop with an income cap and a 139 rental unit that will be converted to tenant-owned housing – both in a rapidly gentrifying, African-American community. These coop conversions can take many years to complete, but they make a long term impact. Families that are being evicted are able to buy their homes for only slightly more than than their controlled rent.

Community land trusts are local non-profit organizations that retain ownership of the land under the coop housing and separate it from the ownership of residential buildings. Residents control their buildings by owning one share in the housing cooperative, which allows each household one vote in the affairs of the co-op. By separating the ownership of the land from the buildings, using permanent deed restrictions to restrict maximum resale increases (limited equity), and receiving government and private grant money, the CLT can drastically reduce the cost of owning to slightly more than the cost of a rent controlled unit. Other nonprofits which are not land trusts, like the Alliance to Develop Power in Massachusetts, are developing new housing coops (1,200 units so far) run by their low income members as part of their social justice mission.

This is not an entirely new concept. A housing advocacy group called the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board in New York City, has since 1974 enabled the conversion of over 1,600 foreclosed, city-held rentals into limited-equity, resident-controlled co-ops, preserving over 30,000 units of affordable housing. In 1977, while many NYC landlords were failing to maintain and pay taxes on their properties, the city passed Local Law #45. This law allowed the city to begin foreclosure proceedings after just one year of non-payment of taxes, resulting in thousands of buildings, some of them occupied, to be confiscated by the city of New York through in rem foreclosure. In 1978, the city’s housing agency created new housing programs that gave residents and community groups control and eventual ownership of in rem buildings.

Pressure for housing will likely only continue to grow at current unemployment rates. Local governments and police will have to spend more and more money and time on evictions and property security and on shelters and subsidized housing.

Or they can proactively support permanently affordable, limited equity, tenant-owned housing development, which is a much more cost effective, humane and safe plan for everyone in the long run.

For more more info on how to start a tenant-owned housing cooperative see http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-start-a-housing-coop.

Mira Luna is a community activist working to develop an alternative economy in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her article was originally published at Shareable.net. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post’s coverage of American political life, please sign up at www.offthebus.org.

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Whose House? Our House!

February 23, 2010 at 6:12 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations) (, , )

(This is an archival article I wrote for GNN.tv, which is now closed, originally published Tue, 06 Mar 2007)

The Battle to Defend the Ungdomshuset

The people in the house have been trying to get into dialogue for a lot of years and now there is no dialogue. So now they are fighting for a place to be.“ —Simon Nyborg

The silence of dawn in the Danish capital was abruptly shattered by the sound of helicopter blades. Then came the rhythmic stomping of boots on the rooftop, the hiss of tear gas canisters, the shouts of commandos, the terrified screams of residents, and the crack of doors being kicked in. The handful of youth who had been keeping a 24 hour watch over the Ungdomshuset (“Youth House”) squat proved to be no match to the overwhelming force of the heavily armed Danish anti-terror squad that descended from a police helicopter onto their roof.

Read more »

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