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U.S. | Fault Lines | Health, Housing, and Public Services

A World for the Taking: Squatting In the USA
by Julio Marquez
Friday Aug 19th, 2005 1:55 PM
My name is Julio and I'm 28. I grew up in the Bay Area but moved to Southern California in my late teens. Since I came back to the Bay Area seven years ago, I've been homeless off and on. Originally it was due to the cost of living not being very easy to keep up with. For a while I lived in hostels and crack hotels, but soon gave that up and started squatting, which was an easy way for me to live rent-free. A few years later I began hopping trains and have since traveled across the country, squatting in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Austin, New Orleans, Seattle and countless other places.
insidesquatt.jpg
insidesquatt.jpg

My name is Julio and I'm 28. I grew up in the Bay Area but moved to Southern California in my late teens. Since I came back to the Bay Area seven years ago, I've been homeless off and on. Originally it was due to the cost of living not being very easy to keep up with. For a while I lived in hostels and crack hotels, but soon gave that up and started squatting, which was an easy way for me to live rent-free. A few years later I began hopping trains and have since traveled across the country, squatting in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Austin, New Orleans, Seattle and countless other places.

Many people have a difficult time comprehending the squatter’s lifestyle. They ask questions like, "Why? How? That's all you do? Isn't it dangerous? How do girls do it? What do you do for money? What do your parents think of this? How do you have sex? Don't you want a house, car, and 2.3 kids?" I usually don’t answer.

I believe in squatters' rights, or the idea that anybody should be able to occupy and make use of what others have abandoned. Squatting was once a legitimate way to claim land but is now a crime. Some towns still have laws permitting legal dwelling in abandoned building, usually under the conditions that it had been vacated a certain length of time or brought up to code. For the most part though, it is illegal. The squats I usually stay in are abandoned commercial or industrial buildings broken into through a loose door or window in an inconspicuous area on the property. The interiors are usually pretty dusty and run-down from the passage of time and some may even be condemned. Often there are items from the previous tenants lying around; antique, rusted machinery in an old factory or an entire family's possessions undisturbed in a house they just up and left one day.

My favorite squat ever was a burnt up multiplex in an alleyway in the SOMA we called the Norfolk house. Late one Saturday night, after nearby bars and clubs closed and the crowds cleared, some friends and I easily pried the front gate open and gained entry. Half of the building was gutted and uninhabitable, while the other half was actually very nice. There was carpeting, some furniture, running water, a whole lot of somebody's personal possessions left behind. Best of all there was a key in one door that ended up being a skeleton key to every door in the building, including the front gate.

Why would you rent when so many vacant buildings are sitting empty for the taking?

New York City was home to many of my most memorable squatted buildings, including some made legal through old, obscure squatters' rights laws. Regardless, many more illegal ones continued to thrive. One of the most notorious in recent years is Abandoned City, an ancient industrial complex spread out over three blocks and right on the water. Occupants of this fortress have lived comfortable while making a living selling scrap metals found in the buildings and piles of clothes left in several rooms. There have been BBQ's and even live punk rock shows held there. Some neighbors’ visit the open area with a picnic bench by the water in the back of the complex as if it were a regular park, and taggers are regular visitors to the walls and roofs. It is a great example of a forgotten space given new life by the occupants.

Depending on the location and people involved, squatting falls into the gray area between homelessness and normal living. But to me, there's ultimately a world of difference between sleeping in a boarded-up house and sleeping on a sidewalk. Squatting allows me to reclaim a home for myself.



Surviving the Streets


1.) Carry just essentials: You don’t need much when to survive in a squat. Besides the clothes on your back, get your hands on a flashlight, an all-in-one silverware tool, a can opener, some candles, water, a nice pair of boots and a crowbar. A Leatherman knife, needle and thread, and lock and chain could also come in handy.

2.) Scope the situation: Watch your site for a while before “cracking” or breaking into the squat. Check postmarks to see how long mail has been piling up; observe for signs of renovation, nosy neighbors and other squatters. If it all seems safe, discrete make your move.

3.) Fix it Up: If you want to stay long-term, change the locks, send yourself the mail, and consider getting utilities set up in your name. It all makes you seem like a legally legitimate tenant when the cops come knocking.

4.) Make it yours. You could gain total legal possession of your squatted house- aka "Adverse Possession"- by living there for 5 years and successfully paying taxes on the place. To start the process, find out who ‘owns’ your squat by checking the records at City Hall. Make sure you also research the squatter’s rights laws in your area for more details.

5.) Network with other squatters on-line: Great resources, handy tips and personal testimonies are available at www.Squat.net. Homes Not Jails in San Francisco is wealth of information and organizes actions SFTU.ORG. To read more by Julio: http://www.livejournal.com/users/shootpplnotdope
§squatting photos, Julio Marquez
by Julio Marquez Friday Aug 19th, 2005 1:55 PM
squatting.jpg
squatting.jpg

§domsey warehouse
by Julio Marquez Friday Aug 19th, 2005 1:55 PM
domseywarehouse.jpg
domseywarehouse.jpg


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by cp
Saturday Aug 20th, 2005 9:28 PM
yeah - Baltimore and Philly and some of the south have tons of boarded up houses. Detroit and that region gets so brutally cold during the winter that it can be a struggle. You'd think it would be so difficult in San Francisco because everyone who pays rent and is medium low income often are in artificially separated livingrooms or doubled up. Yet in Santa Cruz here, and also SF and Marin, there is this phenomenon of the weekend home or second home owned by wealthy people; in the 'international' cities of Manhattan, SF, and Boston, you even get people who live in other countries or other states who keep a second space there. Those wouldn't necessarily be squattable, but I have noticed many more houses that have signs that no one is living there or that they come once a year, than I have seen elsewhere. I would personally be very scared of neighbors because homeowners can be vigilant and even report cars parked too long in front of their house, although SF can be much much less neighborly than Philly, where you can go months w/o talking to a neighbor, much less addressing problems like old mentally ill people living in the traffic divider etc.
by internationalist
Sunday Aug 21st, 2005 9:18 AM
are the million and a half strong MST of Brazil.

Two videos about the MST will be shown on Friday, August 26 at 8:00 PM, at:

Bound Together Bookstore
1369 Haight Street
SF CA

"Strong Roots" and "The Landless" are about the worlds largest and most successful grassroots activist organization, the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, the MST. The showing will be followed by a discussion, etc., in English and Portuguese.

For more about the MST, click here:

http://www.mstbrazil.org/
by update
Tuesday Aug 23rd, 2005 8:20 AM
Juan Reardon, of Friends of the MST will be there.
by Steve DeCaprio
( sinjefes [at] hotmail.com ) Wednesday Aug 24th, 2005 11:11 PM
Hey I've been working on sustainable squats via adverse possession in the East Bay and I haven't met many serious squatters who are willing to stand there ground and not run at the first indication of trouble. If we are going to really challenge the status quo we need to create sustainable squats here and hold onto them through direct action and a willingness to take a risk to create active healthy communal living spaces.

Using unused space as "crash pads" is great. I commend those who do that type of squatting because it keeps rents low and frees up time and money for more usefull activities.

Doing banner drop squat actions is great too. It raises awareness about the issue of housing and builds community solidarity around the housing issue.

BUT we also can create long term housing if enough people are willing to take the risk and commit themselves to long term projects building sustainable squatting communities.

If you agree email me. I feel pretty alone on this even though I know it can be done and has been done before. I guess it seems like people either want the safety, security, and stability of rent OR they want to squatt without any investment or obligation.
by Gao He Ran
Sunday Feb 15th, 2009 3:46 PM
Hei, It's very nice reading ur blog, I admire this way of life which I've never even thought about, and also the courage of u. I'm mostly doing hostels and couch surfing but I'd really like to try squatting sometimes, thank you for the useful informations! I'm 24 and currently studying in Finland, but I'm a chinese from Beijing, I think I saw some squatters which I've never realized until now. Next time, if u ever come to China, (welcome! 8D) u can write me an email and like to meet u! waiting for more pics, Gao He Ran
by calico
( funchy_crunchy [at] yahoo.com ) Saturday Aug 29th, 2009 1:04 PM
If you're going to go as far as fixing a place up and changing locks, why not start out doing it the legal way from day 1? Believe it or not, there are still "homesteading" programs. Some are free land, the only condition being you promise to live in the (rural) town for _ years. Some are in the city, often abandoned lots or buildings. The bigger city near me has a huge list of abandoned buildings. Every year or two they'll inventory the vacant properties and give them away, the only condition being you fix them up to where they're safe and you live there (no back taxes required). Or if you want more control, you can buy homes outright in depressed areas right now -- big townhomes for $20,000 -- the only drawback being you're moving to an old coalmining town or a city like Detroit. One woman bought a house in Detroit on ebay for something like $20. Nobody "needs" to be a squatter if you're willing to put a little sweat-equity into a property.
by Tamra
Sunday Aug 30th, 2009 10:32 AM
I'm sorry but some information is a little off here. In Detroit you need to squat for 7 years. In Utah it is also 7 years with some lands open for squatting-live and work the land for 7 years and it is yours. I believe squattering should be allowed and may get slum lords to clean up a bit, and motivate bankers and investers not to leave property abandoned. Afterall I have seen old factories turned into beautiful apartment complexes with numerous community benifets!

Keep on with the education! but don't forget to strive for the legislation to make squatting legal everywhere!