A Dark Night for the Right to Housing Movement

After a string of high-profile successes in places as geographically distant as Philadelphia and the East Bay Area, an ugly episode in L.A. County the day before Thanksgiving dealt a brutal setback to the burgeoning right to housing movement.

December 1, 2020, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Moms 4 Housing

Dominique Walker, a member of Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, and newly elected member of the Berkeley Rent Board, speaks at a press conference in January 2020. | Shutterstock

"California Highway Patrol officers detained several people during a tense Thanksgiving eve standoff after activists occupied a number of empty El Sereno homes owned by Caltrans," reports Elina Shatkin.

Caltrans has long been a source of local consternation because of its ownership of the vacant properties—the state's department of transportation bought the houses six decades ago as part of an aborted plan to extend Interstate 710 to Interstate 210 to the north.

The seeds of this confrontation were planted in March, when a group called Reclaiming Our Homes moved homeless protestors into 11 of the 163 vacant homes owned by Caltrans in the shadow of the failed freeway project.  

Because the properties are owned by the state, it was state police officers with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) that showed up the night before Thanksgiving. According to the article by Shatkin, the protestors did not have the support of many neighbors living nearby.

Despite the police action, which is documented in the article with photography by Brian Feinzimer, Reclaiming Our Homes had recently reached an agreement with the city of Los Angeles and Caltrans to move into some f the vacant homes legally, reports Shatkin.

The houses, which had previously been vacant, will be leased to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles for up to three years. During that time, people such as "reclaimer" Marta Escudero, who spent more than a year and a half couch-surfing before occupying one of the El Sereno properties with her two daughters, will be allowed to live in the homes while they look for a more permanent living situation.

Reclaiming Our Homes is part of a larger movement for homeless people to occupy vacant public properties that has gained steam and won political successes this year. In Philadelphia, the city announced plans to turn vacant homes over to a community land trust in October. In the East Bay Area, to founders of the Moms 4 Housing organization that took the same actions in vacant homes in Oakland, were elected to public office in November.

Monday, November 30, 2020 in LAist

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