Apr 24

By Rebecca Burns – In These Times

After three years of staying in her sister’s living room, Tene Smith decided to move her family into a home that had sat vacant on Chicago’s South Side for more than two years.

With the help of Liberate the South Side, a Chicago-based organization that targets vacant homes for re-occupation and spent months renovating the house, Smith and her three children moved in during a public ceremony attended by community members and the media in January 2012. “I was fearful when I first made this commitment,” she told In These Times, “but as the days passed I had a sense of independence that had eluded me for a long time.”

The term “squatter” conjures images of the predominantly young, urban hipsters who in decades past claimed vacant property in areas such as New York City’s Lower East Side. But with five times as many vacant homes as homeless people in the U.S. today, a new wave of squatters – just as likely to be hard-hit families like Smith’s as young activists making a political statement – is moving into vacant foreclosed properties in cities like Chicago, New York and Minneapolis.

Today’s housing movement has yet to approach the pace of its predecessors – historians Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais estimate that in 1932, unemployed workers’ councils moved 77,000 evicted families back into their homes in New York City alone. But buoyed by the support of the Occupy movement, housing rights groups have stepped up their efforts. [read more]