In the direct action struggle over housing in New Orleans, the current situation is roughly as follows: there are many squatters, numbering at least in the hundreds. Many of them are people of color, all of them are poor. Many squatters are arrested and jailed regularly, especially african-american squatters who dare to attempt it, as well as other vulnerable populations (youth, queers, women, etc..).
Understandably, not everyone wants to risk the arrests, financial insecurity, hardships, and precariousness of the squatting life to directly challenge capital and the state in their everyday lives (in exchange for certain freedoms when you are successful, it must be said.....it's not all bad!). And many other people, due to skin color, children, or other reasons, cannot sustainably and safely squat in New Orleans without more legal protections.
Fortunately, for those who can't or don't want to become squatters and engage in the direct occupation of vacant buildings themselves, there are other ways to participate! Those who are fortunate enough to not have to squat by necessity should do everything possible to support those who do, and not just leave those who need places to live to deal with city hall and the prison industrial complex all on their own.
Non-racist landlords and a small amount of "affordable" housing (that's too expense for many people anyway) is not good enough for many of us. We want OUT of housing systems where we have no power and can be constantly pushed around by those with more money. Any time a neighborhood starts to make itself nicer to live in, richer people come in and steal our neighborhoods, and we are forced out. The rich always take everything nice away from the poor. No more!
|Thousands of homes sit empty in New Orleans.|
Build up an alliance: renters sick of high post-Katrina rents, housing advocacy groups, neighborhood organizations, anti-blight groups, homeless advocates, anti-crime groups, anti-racist groups, young entrepreneurs groups,criminal justice reform groups, economic development groups, national policy groups working on vacant property issues (ie- National Vacant Properties Campaign --who've already been involved locally), firefighters. Get all these groups to sign on, then bring this list of endorsers to City Council to show how broad the support for putting homes and vacant commercial properties back to use is.
The multiple reasons for the alliance partners to support such a "homesteading legalization campaign" include:
- vacant buildings facilitate crime
- young entrepreneurs have a hard time accessing capital, including property, to start a business out of
- would-be homeowners can't get mortgages now because of mortgage crisis (especially minorities)
- there are multiple positive economic development impacts and economic multipliers that come with new businesses and formerly vacant properties being used as housing
- it is a ground-up, grassroots model of development that builds widely shared wealth and stability, rather than the current top down development model that enriches a few development companies and creates instability for those displaced in grand schemes
- the city will be able to decrease public safety spending both because of full neighborhoods (which reduces crime, as their are neighbors to watch out for one another and no abandoned houses for criminals to hide within) as well as less crime due to an easing of economic hardships surrounding housing that create desperation
- it will stabilize turnover rates in neighborhoods and increase neighbor-connectedness, and therefore safety
- the city will benefit from increased property taxes with an increase of houses in circulation and new businesses operating
- the city will have to spend less on infrastructure maintenance costs for cureently semi-empty neighborhoods as neighbors do things like keep gutters clear and lawns mowed and stopping destruction by vines
- it will allow a huge decrease in the city's blight remediation expenses
- it will decreases city costs associated with homeless services
- it would lessen the reliance on prison as a solution to homelessness and poverty, providing a hand up and helping the city give a better impression to visitors by solving much of the "problem" of visible homelessness
|Vacant commercial properties impede the growth of the economy and keep wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the idle rich.|
A campaign for the legalization of "homesteading" in properties vacant for more than a certain number of months, perhaps 12 to 24. As a "compromise" measure the campaign could ask for de-criminalization (which would actually be better anyway so house flippers/investors can't squat for profit).
It must have limits to the specifics of how one can squat in order to succeed. These would need to include such restrictions as a building having to be empty for a certain period of time to be eligible, it must not be an owner's primary residence, a homesteader must not be able to sell the property for more than the cost of repairs for a period of time after occupying it, maybe for like 15 years after it is occupied. Priority in conflicts stemming from multiple people trying to claim a building should go to the resident who has been in New Orleans longer (so carpetbaggers from Brooklyn or where ever don't take over everything and leave out people trying to come back post-Katrina). There are many more details than these that would need to be fleshed out.
The campaign should use some examples:
There are already several squatted buildings that show how a squatted building can improve a neighborhood. Testimonials from neighbors, housing advocates and researchers, and other stakeholders stating it has improved the character of the neighborhood could do wonders to sway the city.
There are also other cities where unwanted homes have been sold for $1 to anyone willing to fix them up and live in them. This has been very successful in Detriot and some other rustbelt cities.
The improvements for the city that come with this idea far outweigh the benefits of allowing property owners to sit on empty properties that make tourist areas like the French Quarter seem derelict and dangerous, and that make our neighborhoods easier places to commit crimes against residents.
|This fire destroyed a vacant building in the French Quarter last year. It likely could have been prevented if such buildings were not allowed to sit empty.|
Will this destroy class society? No. Will it end the more privileged being able to gain greater advantage in our society? No. Will it slow down gentrification? Maybe. But, while an imperfect reform, it's a reform that can create more space for autonomy from the demands and impositions of the state and capitalism, which would allow radicals to focus on creating greater revolutionary power and having more time to ourselves in which we can do so. Territory is extremely important to radical movements, and land has been a central struggle within capitalism since the struggles over the enclosures of the commons.
This is obviously just a rough outline of what a homesteading legalization campaign could look like, and perhaps it's pie-in-the-sky, but what else is working?
For more, see Squatting The Apocalypse and Homeless in New Orleans: You have to fight the entire city just to survive