Neighborhood Happenings: Housing Occupation

Today, in honor of World Homeless Day, folks with Homes Not Handcuffs and other groups hosted a “Creative Housing Liberation”: a rally, unpermitted march, and occupation/liberation of a 68-unit apartment building that has been vacant for years now. Coincidentally, that building happened to be right around the corner from our home at the Faithful Fools — a stroke of luck that allowed us to run back and grab a couple of “donations” (a chair and a vase of flowers) to offer to the building.

The event was really well done, and so far everything has gone off without a hitch. Crowd energy was strong; the occupiers had the banner drops all ready for us as our march turned the corner down Eddy Street; they had a dope sound system, powered by a generator, that transformed the corner into a dance party; Food Not Bombs even hooked it up with a tasty dinner for everyone.

Also fortunate: the landlord could not be reached by the police. And since the cops can’t break in and apprehend people without first getting the go-ahead from the landlord, the occupiers will hold the building at least until tomorrow morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tomorrow, if I have time, I’ll try to add a bit more of my own perspective and analysis on housing occupation as a response to racist, heterosexist state violence in the form of denying people adequate housing. According to the event organizers, 30,000 housing units remain vacant in San Francisco, a city with 15,000 people living in homelessness. In light of this, does occupation of empty buildings seem morally wrong?

More germane to my line of questioning these days: what role can fun, vibrant, direct actions like today’s play in a larger strategic movement to transcend an economic system where, as Introducing Capitalism: A Graphic Guide puts it in a euphemistic half-truth, “the means of production are privately owned”?

(Note: very first chant of the march, as we took the streets? “Homelessness is not a crime! Capitalism IS a crime!”)

5 thoughts on “Neighborhood Happenings: Housing Occupation

  1. Roger Nehring October 11, 2010 / 9:08 am

    I have so many questions here. Why is this building vacant? I thought housing in San Francisco was more expensive than diamonds so could a tax write off be equally lucrative? Is the point that there should be no privately owned real estate? Is this an effort to get the city to buy units to provide housing? Not challenging here, asking honest questions.

  2. kloncke October 11, 2010 / 7:59 pm

    I’m on the run, Roger, but thank you for your questions — I’ll give a couple of them a shot.

    From what I understand, the building was bought up by the infamous CitiApartments arm of the Lembi family empire, part of a long campaign to buy out and convert old/historic apartment buildings into more expensive condos. To do this, they often employed tactics of intimidating tenants, or taking advantage of their desperation for short-term money. Typical stuff, happening in cities all over the country. (When I was in Cambridge, I worked briefly with a community group called Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative that pre-empted the problem of being priced out of their own neighborhood by winning a fierce campaign for eminent domain, which allows them to now control rent and keep the spaces affordable for the folks who’ve been living there.) I don’t know what they intended for this building (and in the meantime I hear the owner died and there was some sort of internal breakdown resulting in bankruptcy), but the overall logic of the project seems clear.

    I can’t speak for everyone who was at the action, and my sense is that perspectives there range from meeting short-term needs (literally hoping to convert an occupation into a longer-term squat, which has been known to happen); to shaming/pressuring the city to do something positive around housing and homelessness (currently shelter space, services, and affordable housing are all being rolled back severely); to advancing a political strategy of generalized occupations as a vehicle for fighting the capitalist class, and exercising the power of the non-owning class. So it’s almost more of a coalition space, as far as I can see, than a campaign with a specific, shared logic.

    Anyone else who’s in on this and has more/better info, please share!

    How do you feel about large-scale private real estate? What do you think about housing as a human right? Do you think the US does a good job of guaranteeing that right (if it is one)? Do you see homelessness as a crisis situation, or more like a chronic tragedy that can be mitigated but will always be with us? Or some other view? Reciprocally, not challenging, but interested and grateful for your engagement.

  3. kristinking October 12, 2010 / 12:23 pm

    Wow! I’m inspired. :)

  4. The Fish October 13, 2010 / 1:13 pm

    Damn but these pictures are beautiful. Glad you were there for this, wish that I could have been, it’s really good work. Can’t wait to see the day when housing exists for people’s needs, not as an investment.

  5. Roger Nehring October 13, 2010 / 4:49 pm

    Thanks for the excellent responses. I think the US does a hideous job of providing the basic necessities of life for those who struggle. I have always felt that housing, food, healthcare and work are everyone’s right. For those who can, work should be provided in the form of community projects if nothing else is available.
    Large scale private real estate is a travesty of human justice, but the various large scale housing efforts attempted in urban areas have majorly sucked. High rise ghettos are not the answer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s