Take Back the Land

Massimo A. Allamandola suburbanstudio at runbox.com
Wed Jun 11 02:45:16 BST 2008

Guess... after the George Soros message big words but poor facts
(money talk after all) this come as a refreshing local, grassroot and
important initiative !!! we need to learn from people, not from
speculators !


Take Back the Land. Liberty City residents and supporters, led by the 
Center for Pan-African Development, squat on public land, to build 
housing for our own community. No government permission or money. We are 
liberating the land for our people.


Squatters or Pioneers?

HousingMamyrah Prosper steps gingerly over ankle-high grass strewn with 
plastic bags and empty soda bottles in the yard of a vacant redbrick 
house in Miami's Liberty City. She peers through a gap in a boarded-up 
window. "It looks in good shape," she says. "I mean, the walls aren't 
falling down. This is definitely one of our stronger options."

Prosper means that if the place checks out, she and her colleagues from 
Take Back the Land, a local group that advocates for affordable housing, 
will break in, change the locks, paint and clean, innovate a way to 
connect water and electricity, and then move a homeless family into the 
house. The criminal laws they'll violate in the process range from 
trespassing to breaking and entering (even burglary, if the police get 
ambitious), which requires the organization to keep a pro bono lawyer on 

"We call it 'liberating the housing,'" says Take Back the Land's 
cofounder Max Rameau, a compact Haitian American who's earned a 
reputation in Miami for creative activism. In 2006, Take Back received 
widespread attention when it took over a vacant city lot and erected a 
shantytown for the homeless that thrived for six months—that is, until a 
resident's candle burned down the encampment. Rameau's latest, and even 
more legally dubious, campaign targets homes shuttered by foreclosure.

In Greater Miami, there's no shortage of those. Last year, Miami-Dade 
County recorded 26,391 foreclosures, a nearly threefold increase from 
2006, and the pace has only quickened since then. Meanwhile, public 
housing is in crisis; at least four people are in line for each of the 
10,000 available units, and the local housing agency—spectacularly 
corrupt, even by Miami standards—was taken over by the federal 
government last year.

Communities nationwide have seen a deluge of properties left vacant by 
foreclosures, but housing advocates say they've yet to witness anything 
like Rameau's coordinated squatting campaign. "That's the first I've 
heard of that kind of direct action," says Linda Couch, deputy director 
of the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. 
"It's incredibly frustrating for housing advocates knowing that there 
are so many vacant houses amid so many people on the brink of homelessness."

Rameau says Take Back's campaign has two objectives: "One is to actually 
house people. The other is to bring attention to the contradictions in 
housing policy. The problem is that doing one precludes the other." 
Drawing too much attention to Take Back's efforts, he explains, would 
also get the attention of law enforcement. So Rameau's organization has 
placed only two homeless families in foreclosed homes since the campaign 
began in October; the first was Cassandra and Jason, a couple in their 
late 20s, and their two small children. They'd been living in a van 
before Rameau moved them into a one-story stucco home in Liberty City. 
When I visited them in February, Cassandra, who works as a street vendor 
selling jewelry and incense, ushered me into the living room, furnished 
with two chairs, a moving trunk, and a small television. Bedsheets 
covered the windows, and the walls had just been painted saffron.

As far as the neighbors are concerned, the current tenants—squatters 
though they are—are a vast improvement over the crack den the vacant 
house had become. One neighbor even loaned the family electricity via an 
extension cord until a mysterious man sympathetic to Take Back's cause 
turned on power at the house. "I didn't ask any questions," Cassandra 
says. The new living situation, temporary as it might be, affords her 
and Jason the time to save up to rent a new apartment, she said. "This 
just takes the stress off."

According to the Miami-Dade County Housing Agency, squatters, if 
discovered, will be promptly removed from the premises and potentially 
prosecuted. So far, though, Take Back's foreclosure-squatting pioneers 
have avoided detection. Despite the dicey legality, Rameau says there 
are 14 families like Cassandra's on his waiting list. "We counsel them 
that they could be arrested if caught," he says. "But things are so 
desperate, they are willing to risk it."

To volunteer, support, keep updated or stand in housing solidarity 
please go to:

Take Back the Land. Liberty City residents and supporters, led by the 
Center for Pan-African Development, squat on public land, to build 
housing for our own community. No government permission or money. We are 
liberating the land for our people.

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