Making Housing a Human Right

| 12/31/2012 3:11:29 PM


This article originally appeared at  

“We are about to take this house over, okay?” shouted Reneka Wheeler, speaking slowly and emphasizing each word as she stood in front of a vacant house in southwest Atlanta two weeks ago. It wasn’t really a question; the home had already been cleaned up and secured, and the only thing left to do was turn the key. It was a small, pastel-pink bungalow in the middle of the Pittsburgh neighborhood in Atlanta, the type of community where more plywood boards than children’s faces peek out from first-floor windows.

The small crowd gathered in front of Wheeler cheered in affirmation. The woman — flanked by her partner, Michelene Meusa — bounded up the front steps and entered her new home with a quick jangling of her wrist. Their children, Johla and Dillon, soon followed. Dillon exposed a buck-teeth smile and Johla’s pink hair beads tossed from side to side. The last six months hadn’t been easy for the two children; since July, the family had been shuffling from shelter to shelter, where Dillon and Johla often found that other adults didn’t approve of their mothers’ relationship.

M&T Bank — a commercial bank headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. — claimed to own the house, an allegation it would soon enforce. But, for the moment, Meusa and Wheeler had enacted a new vision and definition of housing rights — not by petition or proposal but by altering the reality on the ground.

“We’re going to change the way we do business,” declared Doug Dean, a former state representative from Pittsburgh, Ga., on the women’s new front lawn. “Whether you agree with how we’re doing it, the fact of the matter is that freedom is not free. We must take back our community.”

On December 6, the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Homes movement, Meusa and Wheeler were only two among thousands of people who gathered for coordinated direct actions focused on the human right to housing. Building on a year filled with eviction blockades, house takeovers, bank protest and singing auction blockades, the anniversary of Occupy Homes demonstrated that the groups were still committed to risking arrest to keep people sheltered. Yet, even more significantly, the day’s events demonstrated a crystallization of the movement’s central message: that decent and dignified housing should be a human right in the United States.

Nathan Sands
1/2/2013 8:08:14 PM

Excellent article!! Here in California there is a Homeowner Bill of Rights now, but it just went into effect yesterday. Not a complete victory by any means, but change is happening!

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