Housing Crisis Breeds a New Generation of Squatters

What should be done with the million or so foreclosed homes in the country? We've seen their empty swimming pools used as skateboarding parks. We've seen programs aiming to transform them into rehabber's dreams. And we've heard plenty about turning that empty housing stock into affordable homes.

That last idea appeals to a subgroup of young Americans who are resurrecting a movement that blossomed in the 1980s: squatting. According to Salon.com, a new generation sees the tragedy of foreclosure as an opportunity: not for real estate speculation but to proffer an anti-capitalist message; to beat the system and to reclaim bank-owned housing for those who need it.

Although need might be too strong a word. This new round of squatters isn't in it for the free rent, exactly. Many have college degrees and earning potential, but "squatting is about everyone's right to housing; they are anarchists who reject the idea that homes be treated as commodities to be speculated over for profit." Squatting isn't about shelter, they say, and it's not even relegated to the homeless. It's a campaign, a continuation of what squatters did in three decades ago in claiming abandoned sections of New York's East Village for their own.

Those properties are now, of course, worth millions of dollars ... but that wasn't the point.

Things are a little different for these squatters. They're organized. They're on a mission. They're not claiming property in devastated, drug-addled neighborhoods -- as the East Village was in the 1980s. Landlords aren't warehousing the properties -- keeping them deliberately vacant.

Instead, the absentee landowners are banks.

While it seems to be happening mostly in New York City, it's also occurring in Miami, Los Angeles and Detroit.

Will this generation be successful? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, their home-improvement skills are growing, and their inventory of potential new homes continues to expand.

Maybe the banks will appreciate their work and agree to their demand to claim and co-op homes, making them capitalist participants after all.
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