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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Maybe it's time to just call it "Occupy" -- and trademark it
Posted by Jill | 6:05 AM
I'm not kidding. Because Occupy Wall Street/Portland/Boston/everywhere even the bizarroland that is Naples, Florida is now branching off into other ways of taking back our country from banks and their Congressional shills, perhaps it's time to just trademark the name "Occupy" and start thinking about the many ways the movement is going to work.

One of the most heartening is Occupy Our Homes, which is not only helping people hold onto the homes they have, but also to put homeless families into the boarded-up, decaying properties that are already bank-owned, sitting and rotting both in reality and on bank balance sheets, benefitting no one.

Yesterday on Up With Chris Hayes, Esther Amrah made the point that this country is not suffering from an absence of wealth, it's suffering from the waste of resources -- homes sitting empty, peple sitting idle without work. The panel discussed the meaning and work of Occupy Our Homes:



So I got to thinking.

A few weeks ago, my department at work participated in a project for Habitat for Humanity's "Brush with Kindness" program, helping to rehab a home that had been flooded by Hurricane Irene. We sent teams every day for a week, where we hung sheetrock, spackled, and laid floor tile. Habitat primarily builds new homes for lower and middle-income working families who work in the community but cannot afford market-rate housing. Habitat families put at least 400 hours of sweat equity into their build, and then buy the home using a no-interest mortgage provided by Habitat. These homes remain Habitat homes upon sale; families cannot flip the house at market rate. It's not a "free house" and it's not Section 8. Habitat has been terrifically successful at what it does, and whether it's out of a desire to do community service, or simply to learn how to do something you can use in your own home, volunteering for Habitat can be a really rewarding experience.

What the panel discussed yesterday isn't the Habitat model. Right now it's more like squatting, and it remains to be seen just how long the family portrayed in the video will be allowed to stay. Something tells me that after this property is rehabbed using the sweat of volunteers, Bank of America will try to turn around and sell it right out from under them. So perhaps it's time for Occupy Our Homes to get into the real estate business.

Here's how it would work (and this assumes that Bank of America and other companies holding foreclosed properties would be able to recognize the potential for rehabilitating their reputations and go along with it): Occupy would purchase empty foreclosed homes for pennies on the dollar. Bank of America (or whatever bank) would get a tax break for the difference between the amount owed on the foreclosed mortgage and the token dollar amount for which they sell the house to Occupy. Then Occupy starts working the way Habitat does, rehabbing these houses and either selling them or renting them to homeless families or low-income working people. How the details would work remains to be seen, and Occupy would at some point have to become far more organized and perhaps hierarchical than it is today -- and with far more funding. But I have to believe that getting these properties off the banks' books, reducing or eliminating the amount of rotting housing stock, and the work skills gained by those rehabbing these houses, just might go along way towards ameliorating a number of problems in this country.

Yes, there would be resistance. I ran into it at work while working on the team coordinating our participation in Habitat. "No one gave ME a house!" "I have to pay MY mortgage, if they couldn't do theirs, the hell with them." It's the "I got mine and fuck you" mentality that is keeping the 99% squabbling amongst each other while the 1% takes an ever-increasing piece of the pie.

On my street there's a foreclosed house. It's a cute little thing; a cape with two shed dormers and an attached garage. The photographs accompanying the listing of the realtor the bank hired to sell the property make it look to be in not bad shape for a foreclosed property. Some new carpet or refinished floors, a good powerwashing of the siding, and it would be as good as new. There's just one problem and her name is Irene. She came slamming through here in the fall, and I'm told this cute little property now has water in the basement that no one is addressing because the bank doesn't give a shit. So this once-cute house is now a moldy mess-in-progress. And this is on a nice little street in suburbia. Repeat all over the country. Now what good are these houses doing the banks, other than helping fulfill the conservative dream of a nation of a few billionaires, a government doing their bidding, and the rest of us killing each other for scraps?

Perhaps the banks won't go along with it. Perhaps they'd rather bring down entire neighborhoods with their criminality and their neglect. But if an organization could go in there with a real solution to the problem of toxic assets and and equally real problem of homelessness, at least if the banks refused they'd have nowhere to hide from what they really are.

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3 Comments:
Blogger Ramonas Voices said...
Jill, this is a brilliant idea. It makes so much sense it'll probably never happen. But if you can get some traction with this and it does happen, I'm giving you the credit for it because I saw it here first.

We've always been a careless, wasteful country (it's part of what the world sees as the American Dream), but this new accumulation of waste is just dazzling: We allow the waste of human resources by not putting their bodies and skills to work, and we lay waste entire neighborhoods of homes-turned-to-empty shells by allowing mortgage-holders to take them away from already suffering families, willy-nilly, and not give them back, no matter what.

Occupy Our Homes is engaging in squatting, and it's illegal, of course, but the brilliance of their plan is that drawing attention to their own illegal behavior means attention is drawn to the illegal and unethical behavior of the banks. They can hardly scream bloody murder when they're out there doing the killing.

Let me know what I can do to help you promote your idea. I'm all for it and I don't see how it could possibly fail. (I say that because I'm a liberal and a cockeyed optimist, even at this great age, so take it for what it's worth.)

Anonymous ShortWoman said...
Hi Jill!

I generally like the idea, but here is a problem that might come up. Many states have what is called a "right of redemption" after a foreclosure. That means if the people who lost the home can come up with everything owed to the bank during the "redemption period," the bank has to give it back. Realistically this almost never happens -- if they had the money they wouldn't have lost the house. But it does mean that the bank has to hold it, not sell it, not give it away, during that period. In some states, it's a year.

While I applaud the simplicity of the Occupy plan to call attention to banks' illegal actions and solve homelessness all at once, it may not be as good an idea as it sounds. Some of those empty homes have safety hazards like mold, asbestos, lead paint, dangerous plumbing or electrical systems. I see places with dangerous levels of mold, or places where the gas company has taken the meter (because it's too dangerous for gas to possibly be turned on) day in and day out here.

Blogger Jill said...
I'm not saying it would be easy. And I'm not saying the banks would go along with it, even after the redemption period. But I do think there is a germ of a concept here. I'm not expert enough to see it through, but it seems to me that none of these problems should be insurmountable.