Miami New Times Squatters Don’t cry. Just move into one of those empty homes around the corner. By Natalie O’Neill
November 20, 2008
Her knee-length dreadlocks wrapped in a green cloth, Cassy hoists her two-year-old daughter up on a hip and shuffles in her socks into her big, clean bedroom. “This house is a castle,” says the slender, soft-skinned former university teaching assistant, shaking her head in disbelief. “I’ve never had a walk-in closet … and all this space.”
Two months ago, Cassy (not her real name) was homeless, out in the rain with her four kids. Now she has a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, sky-blue house on a tree-lined street in Miami’s Buena Vista neighborhood. She takes warm showers, cooks vegan dinners, and watches the news on a small, fuzzy TV screen. The only catch: The house isn’t hers. Cassy is a squatter and, at any moment, could be arrested for trespassing, even burglary.
Not everybody in Miami-Dade County is crying over this year’s 40,342 foreclosed properties. Cassy is part of a small, well-executed movement by activists at Take Back the Land to relocate homeless families into empty houses and abandoned government-owned buildings.
(Read the rest of this article here.)
Take Back the Land pursues three core political objectives:
First, feed and house people. Taking control of land to feed and house those impacted by the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing is the ultimate in public space for public good.
As such, the Umoja Village provides free food and modest housing for 50 people. While the housing is not “up to code,” it is far better than conditions under local bridges and even some of the nearby slum housing. We strive to consistently improve conditions and the quality of life on the land, including regular delivery of food and other goods, as well as upgrading housing and amenities.
Second, assert our right to control the land in our community. This movement is not fundamentally about homelessness or even housing: it is about land. We contend that the land in the black community is not the domain of wealthy developers or the politicians who do their bidding. The land belongs to the people in the black community. As such, the people have the right to control the land and its uses.
Instead of giveaways to wealthy developers to build high cost, high profit condos which do not serve the needs of the community, the land on which the Umoja Village sits is used to benefit the community. Particularly during land related crisis, such as gentrification and housing, public land should not be used for the enrichment of wealthy, politically connected interests. Instead, the land must be used to solve problems to the benefit of the community. Our communities must determine its own priorities and the appropriate use of land in accordance with those priorities.
Third, build a new society. Instead of replicating the power and social relationships of the broader society in a smaller setting, we build a new society in which people relate to one another differently and the power to make decisions about the Village is centered on them, not the politicians.
While critics charge we are anti-development, nothing could be further from the truth. However, development is not about buildings, technology and the latest consumer products. Development is fundamentally about human beings. The building of structures without the development of human beings is nothing more than a profit making venture, something not worthy of the social status attached to “development” projects.
Max Rameau, “Gentrification Is Dead”
The modern era of gentrification, starting approximately in mid 2002 and ending abruptly towards the end of 2007, is possibly the most extreme—and brutal—since the term was coined in England in the late 1800s. In June 2005, The Economist magazine, widely regarded as the world’s most respected financial periodical, argued, with documentation, that never in history have home prices rose so high, for so long and across so many countries, bestowing upon the “housing boom” a more appropriate moniker: “the biggest bubble in history.” A significant and integral component of that bubble was speculative gentrification.
The social justice movement in the United States proved woefully ill prepared to counter what became a national crisis with devastating impacts on the local communities the movement serves. Consequently, many organizations and activists entered the gentrification game well in the fourth quarter, down by too many points to compel meaningful compromises from the forces of capital dictating and profiteering from gentrification.