Saturday, November 26, 2011

Property Research for Occupy Oakland

Lately I have become an ad hoc instructor on the topic of researching properties for housing reclamation and foreclosure defense by other participants in the Occupy Oakland movement. Occupy Oakland has begun to focus on bank foreclosed properties as the nexus between the takeover by the 1% of our country and it's direct effect on our local community. This realization by Occupy Oakland as well as Occupy Oakland has been a tremendous inspiration for me as I have been fighting for a decade for housing rights and squatting. I am proud to be offering my experience to the movement.

On that note I am offering the step by step process I go through in Oakland to research a property. I provide this information to expand the actions throughout Oakland as well as to offer a template that may be used by occupiers throughout the U.S. and the World.

Step One: Identify Properties

Before you can begin researching properties you must have a specific property or properties in mind. How you identify these properties depends on what you intend to do.

A. Foreclosure Properties

For foreclosure defense you can ask people who are in foreclosure to come forward for assistance. If you want to find foreclosures first rather than wait for people to come forward there are many sources for foreclosure listings. For a list that is already compiled The San Francisco Chronicle has an online database of foreclosed properties:

If you would like to do direct research on foreclosures rather than rely on the San Francisco Chronicle there is a process for doing that as well. You can access that information through the Alameda County Recorder's office. The information is available at their office in full or in part online.

When searching for foreclosures you will search for a document called a Notice of Default. Not all Notices of Default are foreclosures. The Notice of Default must be associated with a Deed of Trust. This is because in California the mortgage and subsequent foreclosure process is done through a Deed of Trust where a trustee is granted the authority to act as a referee between the borrower and the lender in a mortgage.

To find the location of the property in foreclosure you must find a description of the property. That description is usually attached to the mortgage agreement which is in turn attached to the deed of trust. Usually the property descriptions leave out the actual address or parcel number. They provide cross streets and lot measurements instead so a little deduction will probably be necessary.

Although doing direct research is more work you have the advantage of being able to identify foreclosed properties much earlier in the foreclosure process. With that in mind it should be noted that a homeowner receiving a Notice of Default will have time to avoid foreclosure by paying the bank the delinquent amount.

B. Abandoned Properties

The best way to identify abandoned properties is by canvassing a neighborhood house by house and block by block. I recommend identifying a specific area and go up and down in one direction street by street until you've covered the area. After that go back through the same area on all the cross street. In this way you can cover a specific area in a grid ensuring that you have observed every house. Usually the best spots are the ones that are the least obvious so it's important to be thorough.

An alternative method is to use the City of Oakland's blighted property list, and then scout those particular addresses, even scouting them online with a street view setting.

Here is the City of Oakland's list of blighted properties:

Please keep in mind that only a few blighted properties are abandoned. The City of Oakland often uses blight as a means to harass people as well so make sure you are careful when using the city's list.

In the end I prefer the canvassing approach since many abandoned properties aren't reported as blight and many so called "blighted" properties are just people being harassed by the city or uptight neighbors.

The next three steps involve a trip to downtown Oakland near lake Merritt. I go to the tax assessor, tax collector, county courthouse, and county recorders office.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Squatter's Life

I originally wrote this article for Invisible Oranges a heavy metal blog.

I met Mila in 1999 at La Scintilla, a squat in Modena, Italy. I was on tour with my previous band Lesser of Two. Mila runs a number of labels including Agipunk, Break the Chains, and Iconoclast. Recently Iconoclast agreed to release Embers’ upcoming album, Shadows.

La Scintilla was a huge fortress with a bar, library/store, a computer workstation, two rooms with free foosball, a large concert space, a guest room designed for over a dozen people, multiple kitchens, storage, an entire floor of apartments, dining room, common space, laundry room, meeting room, and space left to expand.

During Lesser of Two’s tour in ’99 as well as subsequent tours by Embers, we played at many squats such as La Scintilla.

Before touring Europe for the first time, I always thought of squats as merely abandoned properties which people just occupied for shelter. As a teenager, some friends of mine and I had occupied a vacant warehouse. We brought furniture into an empty office in the warehouse and hung out there. I remember when Ash, the other guitarist on Lesser of Two’s first E.P., was kicked out of his parents’ house and began living in the warehouse.

Once his parents kicked him out he was living in the warehouse without electricity, and one of the only places we could plug in was a local park that was known as a pick-up spot for guys cruising for sex. Eventually Ash left town and Lesser of Two became a three piece with my wife, Kelly, who currently plays bass with me in Embers.