I read with interest this article from Salon about a new squatters movement starting to manifest itself in New York, obviously owing to our present economic conditions. In 1983-84, I lived in a succession of squats, first in Amsterdam and then London. London in the early 1980s had a noticeable number of squatted houses in certain areas. In the south London district of Brixton, where I was at the time, I can recall entire apartment buildings and even one entire city block being occupied by squatters. It was a very interesting thing to be a part of. (I have actually been awakened by police. I don’t recommend it!)
“If you think a property might be vacant, because its windows are boarded up and so on, you have to stake it out for a while. You check out the address on the Department of Finance database to see who owns it. Ideally, it would be a bank or the city. You have to watch the building, especially at night, to make sure no one’s going in and out. After a couple of weeks you can get a pretty good idea if it’s empty or not,” said Morales, whose thick black hair, slim, fashionable goatee and athletic figure far belie his 60 years.
He expounded on the further steps for successful squatting. Safety is paramount; Morales advises all potential squatters to check the structural stability of any building, to look for rot or drooping ceilings. Only when a building’s structural integrity is verified should a group of squatters take the next steps and put their own locks on the doors and secure other possible entry points, like windows. Then, according to Morales, they should black out the windows.
“For the first month, at least, you want to stay under the radar—go in late at night, leave early in the morning,” said Morales, who also stressed the importance of having mail sent to the address with the squatters’ names on it. “If you’ve had mail delivered there for a month, and the police turn up, you use it as proof that you’ve been living there for a while, that you’re a valid resident. They usually leave you alone if you can show them that.”
There is a lot of empty property all across America and a lot of people without a place to lay their head. A building cannot be left boarded up for a long period of time. The plumbing gets messed up, vermin take up residence and so do insects. Apparently after about 18 months, a house left completely empty will become uninhabitable.
The amount of overbuilding done in America over the past decade—most of it fueled by Chinese loans—was obscene, A lot of real estate is going to get abandoned by “underwater” debtors. And there sure as hell is going to be an awful lot of commercial real estate that will get defaulted on during the next five years. Local governments should start thinking about how they can legitimize the residents’ claims to some of these abandoned buildings, because it’s probably going to get worse before it gets any better. If the squatters keep the buildings and yards up, why not let them stay there as long as they’re going to be empty otherwise? Maybe they can pay a small rent to the government for a license? It’s time to get creative with one in every eight Americans on food stamps!
You don’t know squatting: A movement returns (Salon)
Squatters turn £5m building into art galleries and cinema (London Evening Standard)
Councils show squatters where they can find out how to break in (Daily Mail)