Housing defense actions across the US
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu May 13 18:26:55 BST 2010
"This is Above the Law"
Housing as a Human Right
By BILL QUIGLEY
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. Its not against the law, said Ms.
Wilson. This is above the law. Its 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. Were 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
Theyre 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 were 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 Peoples
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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