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Taking Back Homes from the Banks: Exercising the Human Right to Housing

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Taking Back Homes from the Banks: Exercising the Human Right to Housing

By Bill Quigley. Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans. His email is quigley77@gmail.com

May has seen an upsurge in local organizations exercising their human rights to housing. Most people recognize that international human rights guarantee all humans a right to housing. With the millions of homeless living in our communities and the millions of empty foreclosed houses all across our communities, groups have decided to put them together.

Organizations across the US are engaging in "housing liberation" and "housing defense" to exercise their human rights to housing. Here are a few examples.

Madison

In Madison Wisconsin, the grass-roots organization Operation Welcome Home helped Desiree Wilson, 24, a mother with small children to move into a vacant house, hook up utilities and change the locks, according to nbc15.com in Madison. The home was vacant due to foreclosure. Bank of America owns the home now. "It's not against the law, "said Ms. Wilson. "This is above the law. It's just so much bigger than me. Housing is a human right."

Operation Welcome Home held a press conference criticizing the billions of dollars in bailouts to mortgage lenders. "We're asking them to turn over the property to the community whose tax dollars are funding what they are doing." One of the spokespersons for the group, Z!Haukness, reminded people that "housing is a human right, no matter what income, no matter what rental history." The group plans more "liberations" of other vacant property.

A local land trust, Madison Area Community Land Trust, says if the activists convince the bank to donate the home the trust can find the resources to turn it into affordable housing. Taking over the vacant foreclosed property is "a brave move" says Michael Carlson of the Madison trust. Carlson told the Madison Cap Times "They're compelling the citizens of DaneCounty to confront the very real contradictions in the way we provide housing massive surpluses in the market that led to a collapse in credit and simultaneously people without shelter and permanent affordable housing."

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Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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