Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Oakland Ready for a Squatting Movement?

In the summer of 2000 I was homeless. I had been working 40 or more hours a week in the food service industry for all of my adult life just to get by, and there I was without a house and without a job. Fortunately I had a lot of friends with a lot of couches. I found odd jobs while I looked for a job, but I had become sick and tired of handing over half of my paycheck to a slumlord.

I had seen a different world. You see I had just returned from Europe where I had seen dozens of squats. These buildings had been occupied by punks or radicals to provide housing and provide space for projects such as concert halls, libraries, book stores, schools, cafes, restaurants, and so on.

In all likelihood if I had not lost my job AND my home upon my return to the states I may not have embarked upon a decade long struggle to establish my own squat in Oakland, California. Now I live in my own squat which I established with the help of many friends, and it appears that Oakland may be the nexus of a squatter movement.

Before establishing my own squat I stayed at a house called Hellarity. After the owner went bankrupt and lost the house we tried to purchase the house. We found investors and everything. Unfortunately someone outbid us at the bankruptcy auction. At the time everyone was speculating on real estate, and this guy probably thought that this was an investment that was guaranteed to pay off. Unfortunately for him he found out that many of us were not giving up the house without a fight.

After 5 years of litigation and over a decade of occupation Hellarity is still there!

Now, in the same neighborhood that I've established my squat there are three others, and we've established a squat garden. There are dozens of abandoned properties still scattered throughout the neighborhood, and the situation could be right for this trend to continue. If so many of these blighted properties can be transformed into functional living spaces, and with more eyes on the street crime rates will go down.

With unemployment at record highs unemployed squatters can work on rehabilitating their squats and doing community projects without the pressure of rent or mortgage forcing them to compete with others in a difficult job market. Rather than work for money to pay the for housing they can pay through sweat equity.

I am excited for the prospects of such a housing rights movement. We can challenge the oppressive cost of housing at the same time that we lift up our own community by creating our own opportunities.

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