[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Neighbors Helping Neighbors - to Break intoVacantHouses

Dusan Ugrina dusanu at gmail.com
Fri Feb 27 00:48:12 EST 2009

Dear all

My name is Dusan Ugrina and I am currently working at the Swiss Forum for
Migration and Population Studies, while working on my PhD at Florida
International University.

It is great to see such lively interest in a topic so polemical and at the
same time so important at this moment. A year or two ago, I helped with a
project that was at that time called Umoja village, which basically intended
to raise awareness of the homelessness and injust socio-economic relations
in Miami-Dade area by squatting an empty lots of public land (where public
housing used to stand, but got demolished and never replaced despite more
than 10 million $ dissapearing in the process). They used an existing law
which allowed them to build "temporary shelters" first from cardboard and
wood, but later it got very innovative (with a help of wider community which
saw this as a just cause). The project did bring some media attention and
the city goivernment started to negotiate (after just ignoring the issue at
first), but after about a year the place burned down (some say by a fault of
some residents, some say that other forces were in play). In any case, it
was an amazing and well organized action, and for those of you that are
familliar with the Brazilian landless farmers movement, the Umoja took a lot
of their ideology from them (just that Miami obviously needs a different
kind of "agrarian reform" hehe).

I have since left Miami, and am now living between Switzerland and Berlin
(which also has an impressive history of squatters movement - at some point
in time in early 1990s whole blocks in ex-East Berlin were squatted),
however, from what I heard the people who did Umoja are now involved in
actions of re-possesing houses owned by banks and other faceless financial
institutions in a simmilar fashion that we spoke about in this thread.

(blog of the Miami group)

(recent news coverage)


I fully agree with those of you that call for us (academia and others in
position of any power) to support such movements, even if that risks our
neutrality, objectivity, relativity, or what ever other excuse we ussually
find not to get involved in social action. This I am more than willing to
participate in the group that is obviously already forming.

Thanks for all your comments and your willingness to work for a just cause.


Dusan Ugrina

On Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 8:48 PM, Alan Smart <asmart at ucalgary.ca> wrote:

> 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
> intoVacantHouses
> 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
> intoVacantHouses
> > 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/
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > URBANTH-L mailing list
> > URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
> > http://lists.ysu.edu/mailman/listinfo.cgi/urbanth-l
> >
> _______________________________________________
> URBANTH-L mailing list
> URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
> http://lists.ysu.edu/mailman/listinfo.cgi/urbanth-l
> _______________________________________________
> URBANTH-L mailing list
> URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
> http://lists.ysu.edu/mailman/listinfo.cgi/urbanth-l

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list