Coming Full Circle: Creating a Three-Pronged Housing Justice Strategy

Coming Full Circle: Creating a Three-Pronged Housing Justice Strategy

Direct action is at the center of the housing justice, but what do we need to see a movement that is fully realized and can target housing-for-profit at its very core?

The housing justice movement saw an explosion after the financial crisis of 2008 and the housing bubble collapse in 2010 for reasons both obvious and esoteric. The primary one for the general public is the absolute scale of the crisis. First, communities not normally affected by mass rates of foreclosure, the white middle class, started to be hit in unprecedented numbers. Those rates only increased heavily oppressed regions, the perfect exampling being the increased rates of foreclosure in communities of color with similar circumstances. Places like central California, Phoenix, Miami, a number of rust-belt cities, and working class areas of New York began to be beacons for this wave of foreclosure, where a single foreclosure on a given street could drive more houses down with it creating veritable “ghost blocks.”

This crisis had ramifications all across the board. Homelessness increased dramatically, putting a strain on the already microscopic safety-net of government programs and the non-profit industrial complex. Dissident movements were taken up by the right where radical conservatives pushed a pro-corporate plan as a sort of “subversion” to the current crisis, though it was obvious this logic was at the heart of the crash to begin with. Rental costs went through the roof as the pool of renters increased, both from those who had been homeowners before their houses were snatched away and the growing collection of younger people who were putting off the purchase of their first home. Generally, the crisis has become obvious and central to many people’s lives in ways that were just not as relevant a decade ago.
The second reason that the housing justice movement has skyrocketed in the last few years is the attractiveness of its most obvious tactics. When Take Back the Land came out of Miami with both a large and visible tent-city and a sequence of housing liberations, people saw a contradiction in the world of housing as it was and a strategy for challenging the system directly. When direct action becomes a practical course of action rather than just an ideological talking point the movement sees a massive influx from people who feel energized through participation. This tapped directly into the urge towards direct democracy that came like a wave through the Occupy Movement, and the Occupy Our Homes project took the ideas and tactics of Take Back the Land to dozens of cities with a dramatic influx of people new to community organizing. This has created an growing trend towards direct action focused housing casework, all of which uses each individual case of housing liberation or eviction resistance as a pilot to creating neighborhood networks that seek to completely transform the internal logic of housing. This format has also played into the growth of other groups, such as Solidarity Networks that often work on both labor and tenant issues.

This has been an incredibly positive turn where radical critiques of the solutions offered by both capitalism and the welfare state are implicit, and the tactics are ones that show people the true power they hold in acting directly rather than through some form of mediation. That being said, there are times where it is still missing a complete approach to transforming housing. If we are going to use this case work model to actually transform housing on a larger scale then we are going to have to use it in conjunction with other tactics working on complimentary demands.

Housing liberation is one of the more interesting additions to the housing justice movement since it unites the kind of “lived resistance” of the anarchist squatting movement with the working-class focus of the community organizing structure. When you compare the huge number of empty homes to the number of homeless families people see stark contradictions with the over-production of capitalism and its inability to meet the need that develops in the absence of proper distribution. When we support people to liberate empty bank-owned homes, we exploit that contradiction and send a message about how weak this system truly is. This is a deeply powerful form of messaging, and is a great way to encourage under housed people to get involved in the movement at large. That being said, it is not the most effective form of community engagement and organization for larger goals. The liberation of houses often happens in secret for security reasons, and they are rarely made public except in situations of eviction. They also are rarely long-term housing solutions, instead usually just a stopover while people get on their feet. Likewise, the labor it takes to get the houses off the ground is often substantial and takes people away from strategic organizing, though this is can be a really welcomed break. If the neighborhood in question develops a growing number of liberations and can organize into directly democratic general assemblies then they can be their own unit of resistance, but this is currently pretty rare and would need a long-term strategy to get there. What is important about housing liberation is how it captures the imagination of the people who encounter it and how it creates a clear distinction about where housing is and what our tactics are for building a new type of housing, and in that way it serves to perfectly compliment other forms of housing resistance. We simply need to have those other forms of resistance to influence.

Eviction defense, like housing liberation, does take direct action as a focus, though it also employs an entire diversity of tactics from the more passive protests to the most vigorous forms of physical defense. Unlike the housing liberation this is incredibly public, even if some specific actions within a campaign are strategized in secret for surprise. Generally there is an “operating in plain sight” kind of mindset, where the demands and contradictions are laid out for the public at all times so that the bank, courts, and media are able to see how unseemly the foreclosure really is. In this context it is best to link up people in similar circumstances in solidarity and support, creating permanent networks of mutual aid that can begin to organize semi-autonomously in their community. This is one of the most pertinent forms of organizing since it attacks the points of power within the particular sector. Just as labor organizing focuses on worker’s issues within the workplace to create fighting institutions, eviction-based organizing does this in the housing sectors with each geographic area supplementing for each workplace. With this at the center of the housing justice organizing model, it becomes a tool of “class power.” Here it can actually create dual power by creating directly democratic structures through the resistance, and these structures can also be connected with those created to connect liberated houses.

These two strategies are often the ones primarily taken by the radical communities, especially anarchists who see direct action and counter-legal activity as key if we are to use these points of exploitation to challenge capitalism and the state. This is a good inclination to have, but it is important to connect these two strategic points with a third. The housing system as a whole, developed through policy and banking strategy, is one that has to be targeted directly, and so the other two strategies should complement a more generalized move against big banks, austerity, and housing policy. This does not mean moving into electioneering or focusing on passing bills, but making certain demands such as bank divestment for public funds, moratoriums on foreclosure-based evictions, and increases in subsidies for public housing and Section 8. We should not leave the streets and move into simple broad-based reformist coalitions, but instead use the strength of the organizations we build through our eviction defense and housing liberation work to also make a show of force in support of these demands. The liberal wing of the state will see this as an opportunity to pacify us by giving in on some reforms, but since we have started with a radical vision of transforming housing we know that it will only mobilize us further if we are inoculated against their logic. It is up to us to find ways of connecting the reformist and direct action wings of the movement, as is true in all struggles, and then using the force of resistance from the neighborhoods to drive concessions from the state. This can only be done up to a point since we maintain a radical vision for housing that moves outside the current capitalist confines, but it will help us to gain momentum and see real benefits for working people in the meantime. The inclusion of the direct action committees will also help to push for reforms that will strategically help the on the ground movements, such as moratoriums over simply TARP reform. We will then also be able to grow our strategic orientation, creating permanent working relationships, and work to develop coalitions of other “sector specific” movements (like labor, healthcare reform, immigrant rights, etc) to come together on common issues of class, state repression, and intersectional oppression.

The real point of the third wing of the movement is to maintain a long-term vision over a broad geographic area. If we transform housing in just one city then it may operate as an anomaly and we will need to begin to transform the institution of housing everywhere so it even has an effect on the people who have not had the opportunity to organize. Capitalism will never allow for a complete community takeover of housing and its removal from the market, so we need to have a systemic analysis that looks at it as a complete matrix rather than thinking we can simply resolve the contradictions implicit to this manifestation of the system. Instead, we have to set long-term goals that see changes made on multiple fronts.

Agitation and organizing is not a straight line and even if you maintain a radical anti-capitalist perspective it does not mean you must be segregated into “anarchist” movements. In any point of organizing, look at what resources and organizations are available to you, see where you need to grow, and see how to inject a more radical analysis and set of tactics. Even if this is the more reformist wing of the housing justice movement, it contributes to a more complete praxis can enter the war with multiple fronts.

Posted By

Eviction Free Zone
Dec 12 2013 19:44

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