Friday, May 14, 2010

Squatters "Rights?"

Everywhere I went this week, everybody was talking about it; all the media were covering it; it’s the kind of story that brings out strong emotion. The basics: a 24-year-old single mom and her two small children were moved into a vacant Tempe Drive duplex by a group calling itself “Operation Welcome Home”, led by some character who says his first name is “Z!”. Please note the exclamation point after the capital letter Z.

The duplex is in foreclosure and has been vacant for a while. So these “Operation Welcome Home” folks just decided to move the family into the home. And Z! wants the bank that owns the duplex to give it to “the community” for “affordable housing”.

Are these people insane?

Not one single person I talked to this week registered anything but amazement, disgust, and anger about this story. I talked with folks at the bank, at my health club, and folks I ran into on State Street Wednesday about this story.

If there’s a more liberal community in Wisconsin than Madison, I’m not aware of it. And yet every one of my acquaintances, who collectively represent the full political spectrum, said this house squat was little more than a cheap land-grab attempt.

Comments on the story that ran on and the online postings from the local TV stations reflect a community that’s not yet ready to embrace the concept of “squatters rights”.

The young woman and her two children were moved out of the duplex a short time after squatting there by the same folks who moved her in, the “Operation Welcome Home” people. This came after the Madison police department finally ordered the woman out, after claiming for a day that its hands were tied because the owner of the duplex hadn’t officially asked them to evict the squatters.

The local TV stations covered the story well, including the organized news event to publicize the squat, complete with Z! and his minions unfurling a banner which said something like “housing rights are human rights”. And Z! and the folks say they’re planning more of these takeovers, calling them “liberations” of property.

Perhaps it’s because every one of the people I talked with this week pay rent or a mortgage note that they so strongly resent this. Perhaps it’s just because of the audacity of it. Perhaps it’s because we seem to know, at some fundamental level, that this house-squat is just wrong.

Homelessness is a huge problem in this community and in most other cities of any size in Wisconsin and every other state. But this young woman was not homeless before she agreed to let Z! and his folks move her into the duplex, and she’s not homeless now. She just went back to where she was living, at her parents’ home. She has a job and can afford to pay rent, but has an eviction (which she disputes) on her record.

The duplex on Tempe Drive is up for auction Tuesday.

Perhaps Z! and his folks can come up with a backer and bid on it.

Not likely. The entitlement mentality doesn’t work that way.


  1. T!,

    I like Z!'s naming convention!

    >> Are these people insane? <<

    Clearly Z!'s group has hit upon an attention-getting device. So, I'd call him "crazy like a fox".

    This reminds me that in places where there is rent control (I don't know about the PRM) like New York City, there are oodles of buildings that have been abandoned and/or condemned. Some of that has to do with the fact that the owners couldn't collect enough in controlled rent receipts to take care of the buildings. If those buildings were habitable, presto! Homeless problem solved!

    Yes, I'm over-simplifying; however, any time a price ceiling is set as is the case with rent control, sure as shootin' there's gonna be a New York's case of affordable housing.

    I don't know that the situation is in the PRM, though this story reminded me of the halcyon days pre-Armstrong when Mifflin street was almost an armed camp for squatters.

    The Town Crank

  2. Google "Take back the land" to get an idea of the ideology behind this fiasco.

    I suppose it was a stunt meant to draw attention to the shortage of affordable housing in the area. Instead it drew attention to weird names with exclamation points and naive ideas about property ownership.

    Operation Welcome Home has done some good work in the past but they seem to have lost their bearings with this action.

  3. Then what pray tell does God mean in Genesis 1:26-28? Last time I looked, "all" meant ALL. God said it. Who am I (or anyone else) to argue with God?

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