We recently posted an article about two women and their children who were squatting in an empty house in Oakland, California, in defiance of the building’s owners. The women are strongly supported by local activists. An eviction date in mid-December came and went, and a hearing was held on the 30th of December. The judge has not issued his ruling on the legality of the occupation.
Meanwhile, the activists have focused energy and attention on Wedgewood, a company that buys distressed real estate1 and renovates it for profitable sale. Characteristically, many distressed properties purchased for renovation are not empty. Wedgewood evicts the sitting tenants or homeowners when it takes over. The people who are evicted have low incomes and add to the local housing crisis, at least temporarily.
Following renovations and a hefty price hike, it’s the ‘gentry’ who can afford to buy the house, not former residents. Gentrification may arguably ease a middle class so-called ‘affordability’ crisis. However, it most certainly makes a permanent contribution to a critical lack of housing that is affordable to lower income citizens.
Activist fury at the actions of the renovation company may be understandable, but is the energy misplaced?
Over the last few decades, housing has become thoroughly commodified. It is bought and sold for investment purposes with little, if any, regard for its value as housing. This commodification is perfectly legal, indeed from some perspectives is considered a pillar of democratic free market society. A symbolic protest against the American right to profit from the marketplace might be better directed towards actions to preserve distressed housing.
How? Housing can be ‘de-commodified’ with the assistance of government at one level or another. There are several ways it can happen but most involve purchase by an owner dedicated to holding the property, by perfectly legal means, away from free market pricing.2
Would activist groups be better occupied putting pressure on city councils, rather than for-profit housing renovators, to keep distressed or other affordable properties away from the free market and create and maintain serviceable, housing that is permanently affordable to people with low incomes?3
Read more on the ongoing occupation of an empty house owned by renovation specialists, and the protest: at the DAILY BREEZE: Redondo Beach-Based Wedgewood Finds Itself In A Battle Over Affordable Housing, Gentrification
- Distressed properties: Among a number of reasons for distress, properties that are in danger of foreclosure, or have already suffered this fate.
- To qualify for federal LIHTC tax credits, for example, developers/owners of rental housing are constrained by law from renting at market prices.
- Here are a couple of examples from affordablehousingaction.org’s posts: Community Land Bank + Community Land Trust = Affordable HousingOne and Philadephia Wants Affordable Housing ‘No Sale’ Except For Non-Profits