Homes for All

Shelter the houseless. Halt eviction proceedings. Sheltering in place is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Open unoccupied homes and hotels to anyone who needs shelter. End the criminalization and sweeps of houseless encampments.

“These are the times we’re living in where your only option
is to occupy a house or live with your children on the street.”

– Dominique Walker, Moms4Housing

Housing is a human right–it is healthcare. It is clear that staying home is the safest and most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tightly packed encampments where people live and sleep without access to soap, water and basic hygiene are vectors for contagion. Many people in these camps lost employment and faced eviction, leaving them without shelter. The quest for endless economic growth protects private property instead of people.

There are more than 500,000 houseless people and over 17 million vacant homes in America–more than enough to house the houseless, allowing everyone to safely shelter in place for the duration of the pandemic. Where there is over production there are squandered resources. We can now seize it for our shared survival. All abandoned and vacant homes, hotels and investment properties should be opened up and reclaimed for those without shelter.

For renters and mortgage holders, staying sheltered means defending ourselves and our communities from illegal evictions by landlords and banks who see people purely as profit. From our perspective, the most immediate and concrete collective action is to defend those who have homes against eviction and foreclosure. If we fail to come together to defend each other, landlords and banks will isolate, betray, and destroy us one after another.

Reach out to your neighbors. Build defense groups. Identify local pressure points. Talk tactics. Be creative. Prepare to stop the evictions by any means necessary. Together, we can overwhelm the courts and sheriffs that enforce the special privileges of the rich. We can create a herd immunity against precarity by defending our homes and each other.

FAQ

Why homes for all?

No one should be homeless when homes and hotels are sitting empty. Housing is a human right. This reality demonstrates that our housing “crisis” is not so much an issue of housing availability. It is a crisis of distribution, much like the supply disruptions this pandemic is already causing with food and other material goods, where countless people cannot get what they need to survive because our current economic system ignores need and would rather waste resources than distribute them.

We acknowledge the legal risk and challenge of opening homes. However, it is clear that our laws must change to reflect our needs as people. Legality is not a reasonable argument in the face of a real threat to human health and safety.

Evicting families is also a threat to health and safety, and we must form strong systems of community support to defend each other from landlords, banks and their agents.

Who is doing this work and how can I help?

Groups like Moms4Housing and Reclaiming Our Homes in California have already begun this work.

Before Moms4Housing, perhaps the highest-profile movement to reclaim vacant homes came in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, as activists with Occupy Homes organized to block evictions. In places like New York and Minnesota, they briefly attempted to move homeless families into vacant homes. Political squatting movements have a longer history, in places like Philadelphia and New York, where organizations like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)—the predecessor to groups like ACCE—moved into vacant buildings and in some cases, like in East New York in 1987, won the right to the homes and kept them, creating the still-extant Mutual Housing Association of New York.

But in a moment of crisis like this one, with unprecedented unemployment spikes and health risks, reclaiming homes may have more leverage than before.

How do I protect myself and my family from houselessness?

If you are currently housed and fear eviction or foreclosure, give us a call. We can steer you toward local groups who can back you up and help you form your own defense networks. For some, this is as simple as getting to know your neighbors and fellow tenants in your building, committing to a collective rent strike and defending each other from threats of illegal eviction. The CARES Act protects 1 in 4 homes from eviction until July. We can help you find out if your home is covered.

We may have fewer resources to help those who are already without homes, but collectively we can pool resources and take risks together to occupy vacant properties for those without shelter.

What happens if my landlord threatens to evict me?

Let’s face it, landlords are going to perform illegal evictions. This is a fact. Our best defense is to build community defense groups. Get to know your neighbors. Crew up with your friends. Talk tactics and prepare a plan for when they cut off your water and turn off the power, change your locks or send goons to kick you out. We will have to fight, and fight hard.

Be steps ahead of your landlord. Join a tenants union. Start one with your neighbors. Make friends with the Super. Have a healthy stock of groceries, lanterns and batteries, have a camp stove and fuel, and water at the ready for any lost utilities you might face. Add a dead bolt to your door. Have text threads set up to alert your defense group of an eviction attempt and build the trust it takes to show up for each other.

Shaming parasitic landlords is also an excellent tactic. We can help you with call-in campaigns and mobilize people to make their lives inconvenient from afar.

Find out if your state currently has any moratoriums on eviction proceedings. Additionally, under the CARES Act any dwelling with a federally backed mortgage loan carries a moratorium until late July. If you live in a single family home or a building with fewer than four units, this information is reserved only for the landlord and their mortgage servicer. You will have to communicate with your landlord directly.

Document all communication. If they threaten to evict you and your city/county/state has moratoriums in place, you can contact your state attorney general and file an official complaint, which will protect you from further legal retaliation. Legal evictions take time to process and legal agents to mobilize. With courts closed and a bureaucratic clusterfuck on the other side of this pandemic when they open, stay focused on keeping you and your community safely at home.

What can I do as a mortgage holder to avoid foreclosure?

The CARES Act protects borrowers with federally backed loans from foreclosure through May 17th. Specifically, the CARES Act prohibits lenders and servicers from beginning a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure against you, or from finalizing a foreclosure judgment or sale, during this period of time. You also have the right to request a forebearance of payments for up to 360 days. You must contact your loan servicer to request this forbearance. At the end of the forbearance, your options can include paying all of your missed payments at one time, spread out over a period of months, or added as additional payments or a lump sum at the end of your mortgage.

This is not ideal, but it does afford us some time to work to cancel these payments altogether. It is impossible logic for anyone without income now to miraculously find it later. Until the pandemic has passed and employment has resumed and people have financially recovered, no one should be expected to make up for payments during a time when a forced shutdown of the economy was necessary for public health. Many people will never get their jobs back.

In the early years of the Great Depression, farmers found a powerful and subversive method to combat foreclosures and tax sales. The penny auction was a collective effort by a farmer’s neighbors to help the farmer keep the farm after it has been foreclosed. The technique was simple—when a farm was foreclosed for overdue taxes or failure to meet mortgage payments, neighbors would show up at the auction and intimidate any potential buyers. In the end, the bank that owned the farm would get whatever was bid and the neighbors would return the farm and its contents to the farmer.

All power to the penny auction. Bring back solidarity with neighbors. There is strength in numbers and we will need them to defend each other and fight back those who would have us houseless in the middle of a deadly viral outbreak.

Toolkit

Reclaim Homes:
  1. Survey your town.
  2. Map vacant houses.
  3. Find out who owns them.
  4. Engage with your houseless neighbors.
    • Without bringing them unnecessary attention from police or other authorities, respectfully approach and ask if it’s ok to talk about their situation.
    • Know what you have to offer and ask how you can use what skills and resources you have to improve their living conditions. Remember, this is solidarity–not charity–and building real relationships is essential in mutual aid.
    • Take requests for what they need and find community support to source it.
    • If they don’t have running water, offer to help solve that issue by constructing a hand washing station that you can maintain and fill.
    • From here you can expand the conversation and explore how to build relationships with your houseless neighbors.
  5. Crew up or don’t. Understand the risks for both yourself and those who may occupy vacant homes.
  6. Refer to this guide for practical next steps.
Rent strike:
  1. Research your landlord.
  2. Connect with other tenants.
  3. Plan an organizing meeting.
  4. Consolidate demands and form a Tenants Council.
  5. Commit to striking.
  6. Identify local mutual aid networks.
  7. Research current tenant protections in your city/state.
  8. Form eviction defense plans.
  9. Send a letter to your landlord from your own tenants council.
  10. Plan for the future together.

For full instructions see the TOOLKIT