Housing defense actions across the US

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu May 13 18:26:55 BST 2010

"This is Above the Law"


Housing as a Human Right


May has seen an upsurge in local organizations 
exercising their human rights to housing.  Most 
people recognize that international human rights 
guarantee all humans a right to housing.  With 
the millions of homeless living in our 
communities and the millions of empty foreclosed 
houses all across our communities, groups have decided to put them together.

Organizations across the US are engaging in 
“housing liberation” and “housing defense” to 
exercise their human rights to housing.   Here are a few examples.


In Madison Wisconsin, the grass-roots 
organization Operation Welcome Home helped 
Desiree Wilson, 24, a mother with small children 
to move into a vacant house, hook up utilities 
and change the locks, according to nbc15.com in 
Madison.  The home was vacant due to 
foreclosure.  Bank of America owns the home 
now.   “It’s not against the law, “said Ms. 
Wilson. “This is above the law.  It’s just so 
much bigger than me.  Housing is a human right.”

Operation Welcome Home held a press conference 
criticizing the billions of dollars in bailouts 
to mortgage lenders.  “We’re asking them to turn 
over the property to the community whose tax 
dollars are funding what they are doing.”  One of 
the spokespersons for the group, Z!Haukness, 
reminded people that “housing is a human right, 
no matter what income, no matter what rental 
history.”  The group plans more “liberations” of other vacant property.

A local land trust, Madison Area Community Land 
Trust, says if the activists convince the bank to 
donate the home the trust can find the resources 
to turn it into affordable housing.  Taking over 
the vacant foreclosed property is “a brave move” 
says Michael Carlson of the Madison 
trust.  Carlson told the Madison Cap Times 
“They’re compelling the citizens of Dane County 
to confront the very real contradictions in the 
way we provide housing – massive surpluses in the 
market that led to a collapse in credit and 
simultaneously people without shelter and permanent affordable housing.”


A Toledo, Ohio, factory worker, Keith Sadler lost 
his home of 20 years at a foreclosure sale for 
$33,000.  When it came time to be evicted, Keith 
had had enough.  According to the 
toledoblade.com, he and 6 friends barricaded the 
house up to resist the foreclosure eviction.  All 
were all members of the Toledo Foreclosure 
Defense League.  After 5 days the house was 
raided by the local SWAT team and all were 
arrested on misdemeanor charges and released.


In Portland, Oregon, a local group, Right 2 
Survive, seized control of vacant land in front 
of an abandoned school.  They set up tents for 
the un-housed.  “This is a celebration because we 
are taking our rights back, “ Julie McCurdy told 
Take Back the Land. “What we’re doing is coming 
up with the solutions tailored for our 
community.  We are tired of waiting for city hall 
to come up with revised plans and rehashed 
ordinances that do not meet the needs of un-housed Portlanders.”

Sacramento, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta

A faith-based group has been moving families into 
vacant homes in Sacramento.  The Poor People’s 
Economic Human Rights Campaign moved a family 
into a vacant home in Philadelphia.  The Chicago 
Anti-eviction Campaign marched to protect a 
family from eviction and the Malcolm X Grassroots 
Movement protested auctions of family homes on 
the county courthouse steps of Atlanta.  Other 
community actions across the country are expected during the rest of May.

Housing as a Human Right

Housing is a human right recognized by a number 
of international human rights laws.  For example, 
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 
adopted after the Second World War, promised 
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living 
adequate for the health and well-being of himself 
and his family, including food, clothing, housing 
and medical care and necessary social services, 
and the right to security in the event of 
unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, 
old age or other lack of livelihood.”

Still, the National Coalition for the Homeless 
estimates of the number of homeless people in the 
US range from 1.6 to 3.5 million.

Foreclosures are soaring.  Some housing experts 
say 4 million foreclosures are possible in 
2010.  There were 3.4 million homes which got 
foreclosure notices, auction sale notices or bank 
repossessions in 2009.  In the first quarter of 
2010, RealtyTrac reported there were 932,000 
foreclosures.  Auctions were scheduled on 369,000 
homes in the same time.  Banks repossessed 257,000 homes during that time

Organizations working to exercise peoples’ human 
rights to housing include Take Back the Land and 
the US Human Rights Network.  Both are working 
with local community organizations to support their campaigns.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for 
Constitutional Rights and a law professor at 
Loyola University New Orleans.  His email is 
<mailto:quigley77 at gmail.com>quigley77 at gmail.com

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