I just stumbled across this local news article from Wisconsin: 

Squatting. Is it a small-scale land grab? Or a direct action to fight homelessness? A grass-roots group called Operation Welcome Home is raising the issue here.

The homeless rights advocacy group helped a single mom and her two small kids move into a west side duplex vacated in a foreclosure action and staged a press conference Monday challenging the loan-holder to deed the property to a local affordable housing provider.

"We're asking them to turn over the property to the community whose tax dollars are funding what they are doing," says Z! Haukeness of Operation Welcome Home, citing billions of dollars in bailouts to mortgage lenders….

"Housing is a human right, no matter what income, no matter what rental history," Haukeness says. Activists say they plan more "liberations" of more vacant foreclosed property. The squat action is modeled on "Take Back the Land," a Miami-born movement to seize vacant foreclosed homes for housing for the homeless that has spread to such other cities as Boston and Philadelphia but is new to Dane County. In some cases, the actions have resulted in properties being turned over to affordable housing agencies, reports say.

The property at 7201-03 Tempe Drive in Madison was foreclosed on early this year and is up for auction next Tuesday at a Dane County Sheriff's Office sale of foreclosed properties. It is now in the hands of a Bank of America subsidiary, and activists want the bank to turn it over to Madison Area Community Land Trust.

Naturally, I thought right away of the essay by Louise Crabtree we published last week, about Community Land Trusts as a solution to the global housing crisis. But I also thought of these pieces from Shareable:

"Five Shareable Solutions to the Foreclosure Crisis"

"What Neighborhoods Are Best Weathering the Foreclosure Crisis"

"How to Stop Foreclosure Through Homesharing" (which can be read with, "How to Share a House: A Case Study")

"Happy Together?" (which is about two cohousing projects in Los Angeles)

"The Slow Homes Manifesto"

If you take all these pieces together, which I just did, a strong clear vision of shareable housing emerges, a viable alternative to the current system.

What strikes me most about the essays we've published to date is that their perspective is revolutionary but the steps they suggest are largely evolutionary–and easily within our grasp. No need to burn the homes of landlords and bankers to the ground and toss the survivors into re-education camps. No need to tear everything down and start over–we can retrofit the built environment we have now.

Activists like those in Wisconsin are squatting and raising fundamental issues of how housing is allocated and financed, and how we manage foreclosed and abandoned properties. But people with more financial and political resources can make social change by, as Janelle Orsi suggests, simply buying homes together and conceptualizing them as a way to interact with other people and with nature. We can organize community land trusts, revise the ways we zone and finance, convert foreclosed McMansions into multi-family homes, and build relationships with our neighbors and across different sectors of our communities.

The portrait that emerges is of a better world, just slightly to the left of the one we live in now. These articles give us the map we need to get there. 

Jeremy Adam Smith


Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith is the editor who helped launch Shareable.net. He's the author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, June 2009); co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton

Things I share: Mainly babysitting with other parents! I also share all the transportation I can, through bikes and buses and trains and carpooling.