[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to Break into VacantHouses

Dani Kranz danikranz at gmail.com
Fri Feb 20 13:57:44 EST 2009

Dear Stephen

in Germany the Hafenstrasse (Harbour Street) in Hamburg and the
'Hausbesetzerszene' (literally house occupiers scene) in Frankfurt
made the news for years and have been researched. As far as I know all
publications are in German though (_Die Leute von der Hafenstrasse_;
_Konflikt um die Hafestrasse_; _Hafenstrasse_ etc.), but maybe _New
German Critique_ or so have something in English.
In German discourse the connection to '1968' is quite interesting.
Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister, was involved in parts of
the 1968 movement, which protested against the problematic notions of
dealings with the past (_Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung_) and what was
seen as a rampant capitalism in Germany. In Germany, the lack of
affordable housing was only one issue of the movement.

While they are not 'occupiers' in the German sense, but reside with
permission until the property is put to a different use, the Rainbow
Communities in Britain (not sure if they are an international
movement) might be of interest. I have only come across them once,
when doing research on new Jewish space in London.

Happy weekend,


2009/2/20 Stephen C. Maack <smaack at earthlink.net>:
> Comparative anthropology -- while I don't have precise references, I know
> that in Europe (e.g., France, Germany) there has been a movement going on
> for several years to take over vacant apartment buildings.  This is due to a
> lack of affordable housing and homelessness problems.  I think that
> occupying vacant apartment buildings has also happened in some of the larger
> U.S. cities (perhaps in NYC -- parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn or the Bronx?).
> Anyone have details on those movements?  Is taking over vacant single family
> homes a variation on the theme?  I've lived in Minneapolis or St. Paul for
> nine winters and don't blame anyone trying to get out of the cold, or at
> least the wind, in mid-February!!  Breaking into vacant houses is, of
> course, completely illegal.
> In relatively warm Southern California there are many, many vacant,
> foreclosed homes that are virtually new in San Bernardino and Riverside
> Counties in particular (until recently two of the fastest growing counties
> in the United States).
> If this deep recession is going to last for some time, which is what is
> expected, homelessness is only going to get worse and worse.  Someone has to
> start thinking of innovative solutions beyond mortgage bailouts of current
> homeowners, and I can't think of a better group than those of us on the
> Urbananth list.
> Here's an idea for consideration.  What if instead of just reacting,
> observing, going "tsk, tsk" or talking about neoliberalism, some applied
> urban anthropologists started becoming proactive with solutions less
> dangerous to poor and middle-class victims of what has transpired than
> illegal home occupancy?  For example, one idea might be to talk to banks and
> social service agencies about setting up a program to turn at least some of
> the vacant properties into at least temporary shelter for families who have
> lost their homes due to no particular fault of their own (e.g., lost a job
> in the economic downturn, or lost a home due to a bank-encouraged bad
> mortgage decisions).  Having so many homes on the market at the same time
> will only further depress prices.  More and more homes are being put up for
> lease near where I live (in a very good neighborhood), and not being leased
> due to too high lease/rental prices (so that may eventually force down
> prices).  So homes aren't going to turn over quickly anyway, as owned or
> leased properties.  If banks with large stocks of foreclosed homes let them
> out at very low rents for say six months or a year they would have occupied
> properties less likely to be trashed or used for illegal activities
> (shooting up drugs comes to mind...), might at least cover the cost of
> utilities (electricity, heat, water) -- especially important in cold
> climates to avoid damage to pipes and such -- and would certainly produce
> "good will" in the community.  The banks could phase the program and apply
> it to only some of their properties or certain neighborhoods.  Applied
> anthropologists, social service agencies, neighborhood groups, and banks
> could work together to redefine "risk" and what constitutes an "acceptable
> tenant."  What do you think?  Could it work?  Or am I just too much of an
> idealist, not enough of a revolutionary, or too logical?  Why
> wouldn't/couldn't this work?  Enlighten me....
> Best Regards,
> Steve
> Steve Maack
> smaack at earthlink.net
> Telephone:  310-384-9717
> -----Original Message-----
> From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu
> [mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Angela Jancius
> Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:03 AM
> To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
> Subject: [URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to Break into
> VacantHouses
> Neighbors Helping Neighbors -- to Break Into Vacant Houses
> http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/02/18-7
> Wednesday, February 18, 2009
> Twin Cities Daily Planet
> (Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota)
> by Madeleine Baran
> Poverty rights activists broke into at least a dozen vacant Minneapolis
> buildings this week and helped homeless families move in.
> "This is the modern underground railroad," said Cheri Honkala, National
> Organizer for the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, the group
> organizing the "takeovers."
> This week's actions are part of a growing national movement to illegally
> open up thousands of vacant, foreclosed homes to provide housing for the
> growing number of homeless people. Over 3,000 Minneapolis homes went into
> foreclosure in 2008. Advocates estimate that over 7,000 Minnesotans are
> homeless. Most Twin Cities' homeless shelters have been filled to capacity
> for months.
> ...
> /snip/
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