So, last week, ACORN (a nationwide, grassroots political organization working with low and moderate income people) made announcements of pending "direct actions," the first of which will be a protest at the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday during a foreclosure auction.
Other "direct actions" are planned as well, including taking over vacant buildings so homeless individuals can live inside.
Hawthorne's Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, is a member of ACORN and, until Sunday afternoon, was the Chair of the Financial Justice Committee for Minnesota ACORN. But this is a case of the acorn falling some distance away from the tree. Jeff finds himself unable to support pending ACORN actions that involve responses to the mortgage crisis. Like taking over vacant buildings.
...Jeff wrote a letter and resigned. I'm not putting the letter up here, because it was written to the ACORN organization, it was not intended as a public manifesto. But the long and the short of it is that Jeff can't support actions against the sheriff because he is fulfilling his official duties. If action is going to be taken to stop foreclosures, we should target the lenders who are actually doing the foreclosures, because they're the ones who can actually make a decision not to foreclose.
Jeff also doesn't support taking over vacant buildings. And there's a whole flapjack stack of reasons there, piled up high, but here's some of them. One reason is that neighborhoods are having a hard enough time trying to repopulate by encouraging the sale of these homes. In the last 3 months, over 95 percent of the sales in Hawthorne were foreclosed properties. (Thanks to Connie Nompelis for that info) It's hard enough to create a marketplace for new home ownership and good landlords, but what happens if Hawthorne becomes known as the place where homeless people take over houses?
I say these things as somebody who has been involved in taking over a building before, in Seattle, but that was a different time, place, and circumstances. Jeff feels compelled to jump in at this point as I type the blog entry.
"Cheri Honkala--who is with one of the organizations in favor of house takeovers in support of the rights of poor people--was asked in an interview 'What happens with utilities?' And her answer was 'God turns on the utilities.'"
(For the record, that quote was in Insight News)
Jeff says even he, the son of a bishop, doesn't have THAT much faith. Somebody is breaking the law and risking their life to turn on electricity.
Moving on to another reason to oppose the takeover of vacant buildings in North Minneapolis, there's no accountability for the condition of the property or the behavior of the occupants. It would be great if we could petition Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and whoever else to rent out their properties to keep them occupied instead of vacant. If we did it that way, they'd go to the system for a rental license. Then the system that ALREADY EXISTS could hold the occupants accountable for their behavior and the condition of the property.
Last, if you take this simplistic course of logic that there are vacant homes and homeless people, so let the homeless people take over the houses, it won't start and stop with ACORN. (This is my argument, not Jeff's, for the record) Led by charismatic personalities that will emerge to leadership positions under those unusual circumstances, homes will be taken over by the "cardboard sign brigade," by coalitions of upset former renters who were nothing but problems to the neighborhood, anyway, and by ambitious would-be brothel owners. It will anarchy, the end of days, dogs and cats copulating openly, or (to use Jeff's sci-fi geek analogy) "Mad Max/ The Road Warrior, will be walks in the park by comparison."
Here's another reason to oppose this contemplated course of political action. Any buyer of one of these houses will take heat for putting a "poor widdle homeless family" out in the street, kind of like the b.s. the Star Tribune tried to pull with the eviction of 3101 6th St. N.
Nobody would want to buy the houses and take the heat, so the place would sit vacant and unoccupied indefinitely because of the political ramifications of evicting a homeless family.
But, hey, if people want to have that debate...the comment threads are open.