[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to BreakintoVacantHouses

Donald M. Nonini dnonini at email.unc.edu
Wed Feb 25 10:41:22 EST 2009

I agree with Alan that this has been a very interesting discussion string. I
would urge Stephen and like-minded colleagues, especially with European
experience, to get together (electronically or at the AAA) to discuss this
issue and his practical proposal to work to reduce homelessness in the USA
by opening up foreclosed residences for temporary occupation, which has been
implemented elsewhere (e.g. in Belgium as Rik made clear, and also I believe
in Spain).   

Writing personally, I think this is a very important policy issue, and I
agree with Stephen that anthropologists potentially have a lot to
contribute. Perhaps a task force of urban anthropologists interested in
working on this and other challenges of the current deep economic crisis is
called for?

Don Nonini
Professor & Director of Graduate Studies 
Anthropology Department
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

-----Original Message-----
From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu
[mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Alan Smart
Sent: Monday, February 23, 2009 2:49 PM
To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu; 'Angela Jancius'
Subject: RE: [URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to

This has been an interesting string of discussion.  I've published a couple
of articles dealing with governmental toleration of illegal housing;
surprisingly there is relatively little known in general about toleration of
illegality despite its frequency of occurrence.  References:
Smart, Alan "Impeded self-help: toleration and the proscription of housing
consolidation in Hong Kong's squatter areas."  Habitat International
27:205-225 (2003).

Smart, Alan "Unruly places: Urban governance and the persistence of
illegality in Hong Kong's urban squatter areas."  American Anthropologist
103(1):30-44 (2001).

And for a broader perspective:  Heyman, Josiah and Alan Smart "States and
illegal practices:  An overview."  In Heyman (ed.)  States and Illegal
Practices.", pp. 1-24.  Oxford:  Berg, 1999.

Alan Smart
U of Calgary

-----Original Message-----
From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu
[mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Rik Pinxten
Sent: February-20-09 3:05 AM
To: smaack at earthlink.net; urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu; 'Angela Jancius'
Subject: Re: [URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to Break

dear colleagues,
In Ghent and other cities in Belgium (and the netherlands) we have a
tradition of at least a decade  where the Mayor and his services get in
contact with illegal occupants and make a deal with them.When the houses or
appartments are demolished or sold it in not uncomon that the Elderman or
mayor orders to find a new home for the occupants.
Rik pinxten
----- Original Message -----
From: "Stephen C. Maack" <smaack at earthlink.net>
To: <urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu>; "'Angela Jancius'" <jancius3022 at comcast.net>
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2009 1:51 AM
Subject: RE: [URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to Break

> 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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