Occupy 2.0: Movement to Occupy Vacant Houses Spreads

JAISAL NOOR, JOURNALIST: In New York, Occupy Wall Street is continuing to shift its focus away from occupying parks and squares to other actions, such as occupying homes. In Brooklyn, New York, an occupation of a vacant home has entered its second month. Twenty-seven-year-old father of two Alfredo Carrasquillo has been in and out of homeless shelters for nearly ten years.

ALDREDO CARRASQUILLO, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, VOCAL-NY: When I was going through the shelter with my kids and their mother, and we decided we didn’t want to go through that no more. And that’s why I winded up couch hopping, because I didn’t want to go through that experience anymore.

NOOR: But after getting the support of community and church groups and Occupy Wall Street’s Occupy Our Homes campaign, Carrasquillo spearheaded an effort to find a new home for his family.

CARRASQUILLO: So you—please come inside.

NOOR: Carrasquillo moved into a vacant home in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, which has experienced high rates of unemployment, foreclosures, and abandoned homes. Teams of Occupy Wall Street protesters have joined Carrasquillo in shifts to defend the occupation around the clock. They’re also working alongside him to fix up the house and make it hospitable for his wife and children.

CARRASQUILLO: So I felt it was my duty and obligation to stand up as a young man of color from these communities to lead by example to show that there’s nothing ashamed with admitting that the system is wrong and is not allowing you to progress and be productive and own your own property and become a productive citizen in society.

NOOR: In December, activists carried out a nationwide day of action to reclaim foreclosed homes from bailed-out banks and move homeless families into them. Although Carrasquillo is risking arrest, he hopes he’ll gain a permanent home for his wife and children, who are 5 and 9 years old. He’s in negotiations with Bank of America and the former owner to gain legal ownership of the property.

CARRASQUILLO: I came to this point where I jumped on this opportunity, and I wanted to make it a national movement to help all the families that are homeless and dealing with the situation I had to deal with.NOOR: Some neighborhood residents are expressing support for Carrasquillo and the efforts to fight back against corporate lending practices. Longtime Brooklyn resident Doyle Coleman lives three doors down.

DOYLE COLEMAN, BROOKLYN RESIDENT: It’s something me and the family welcomes, and also members of the community, because any time you have vacant property that’s an eyesore with no upkeep, nobody to maintain it, nobody to take care about it, it brings the value of other people’s property down.NOOR: Occupy Our Homes is a shift of focus for activists in New York. Organizer Elliot Tarver says they’re now organizing actions around the needs of local communities.

ELIOT TARVER, OCCUPY ORGANIZER: It’s moved past just being symbolic, which is really what sleeping in Zucatti Park was, to taking things like homes and doing actions that create lasting change and that affect people rather than just spread a message, which is also important.

NOOR: Tarver says Occupy Wall Street should not only build relationships with local communities, but put community members and organizations at the forefront of the movement.

TARVER: But I think the concept of bringing together these different constituencies around an issue like housing or like student debt or whatever is a really important way to work and to kind of bridge gaps between the people who’ve been doing this organizing for years and years and years and this new movement which now has a ton of momentum behind it and a lot of resources. And so I think tightening up those working relationships is going to be a really important thing on the agenda in the next couple of months.

NOOR: A recent study by the Center for Responsible Lending examining home loans received between 2004 and 2008 found one in four borrowers in low-income areas have been foreclosed on or risk foreclosure. More than 3.5 million people could still lose their homes to foreclosure, on top of the 2.7 million who already have. To reverse this trend, activists, including the group Take Back the Land, are vowing to expand eviction defenses and occupations across the country. Similar actions are underway in Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle.

IRA RHEINGOLD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CONSUMER ADVOCATES: What the Occupy movement really is simply pointing to and showing is that we have all these homeless people, we have all these houses that are vacant. we need to do something about it.

NOOR: Ira Rheingold, Executive Director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, says activists are succeeding in popularizing the idea of housing as a human right.

RHEINGOLD: Ultimately will it move the policy debate? I think that’s the most important thing, so that we actually have policies in place that promote people staying in their homes and finding decent housing for families who are homeless, which we really have failed to do in this country at this point.

NOOR: Reporting for The Real News and FSRN, this is Jaisal Noor in New York.

This article was originally published by The Real News.

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