From Shareable.net/Huffington Post
by Mira Luna
A group of low-income San Franciscans has come up with a positive, long term solution to the housing crisis that is causing millions of Americans to be evicted and some to embrace the "Occupy Homes" movement: buy the buildings.
In October 2011, residents of the Columbus United Cooperative (CUC) in San Francisco celebrated final approval of the ownership of their building as a permanently affordable, resident-owned limited-equity housing cooperative. The residents can now purchase shares in the co-op for only $10,000 in the heart of San Francisco (where most housing starts at $500,000) to become cooperative homeowners, though most earn less than 50 percent of area median income. Previous to the conversion they had been living in their building under the threat of eviction.
According to a Lender Processing Services report on November 18, "just under 6.3 million properties nationwide are either 30 or more days delinquent or in foreclosure." Another study published in June by Templeton LPA states that the number of court orders to evict tenants have risen by 9% over the last year, and the number of tenants in serious arrears with their rental payments is up by 13%, with 2.1% of all tenancies in arrears nationwide.
Long waiting lists for public housing mean that people remain homeless or in shelters longer. The
National Coalition for the Homeless reported that in 2007, before the economy went into full recession, the average stay in homeless shelters for households with children was 5.7 months . Rising foreclosures and tenant evictions have been helping to fuel the fire of the Occupy movement. "Occupy
Homes" is a new offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that links homeowners with activists in direct action to halt foreclosures in some of the local strongholds across the country of the Occupy movement. Occupy Oakland has announced it will start occupying vacant homes starting in December and Occupy Portland is already starting to move into foreclosed homes. Homeless advocacy group "Homes Not Jails" is teaming up with Occupy San Francisco to turn abandoned hotels into homeless shelters.
After Occupy L.A. organized a vigil and camp at her home and occupied the local Fannie Mae office, Rose Gudiel was able to keep her and her disabled mother's home from which they were being evicted, as the bank opened up to renegotiating their mortgage.
Chicago, New York and Minneapolis have branches of Occupy Homes, too.
Ohio Congresswoman Max Rameau, an organizer for Take Back the Land who began this work five years ago, says, "The banks are actually occupying our homes."
But in the US, squatters have few rights and face an steep uphill battle to stay in the homes they've claimed. Owners of foreclosed homes might have some ability to bargain with banks if they can afford to, but many can't, and others are being kicked out of rentals, especially as former homeowners are now moving down the housing chain and renting. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that "40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes are at risk of foreclosure. Squatting isn't for everyone, in particular the sick, disabled, elderly and children, and living in substandard housing under threat of the police isn't exactly ideal. Unless the mainstream joins Occupy Homes and the government starts recognizing squats of vacant and foreclosed properties, the movement will likely remain on the fringe.
Tenant-owned, cooperative housing can provide a more stable solution to the housing crisis. When the residents of the 21-unit Columbus United Cooperative (CUC) in San Francisco converted the building to a limited-equity housing cooperative, the low income, Chinese-speaking resident families were able to stay in their homes.
Read more here.
For more more info on how to start a tenant-owned housing cooperative see http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-start-a-housing-coop.
Mira Luna is a community activist working to develop an alternative economy in the San Francisco Bay Area, who contributes to the fabulous online magazine Shareable.net - your guide to the new sharing economy.