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Coronavirus: Caltrans should open its vacant homes to families

 

LA TIMES - For years, dozens of perfectly good houses in El Sereno and nearby areas have sat empty, even as California’s housing shortage has grown more and more dire.

The houses are owned by Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, which began acquiring them in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for the 710 Freeway extension. But the proposal to “close the gap” — by building the final 4.5-mile stretch to connect the 710 to the 210 Freeway — was finally and definitively killed in 2017. That left more than 400 properties, including houses, apartments, commercial buildings and vacant lots surplus. Some are occupied by tenants, but 87 single-family homes are vacant.

Last week, a group of families that are homeless or at risk of becoming so decided to start moving into some of those empty houses. As of Friday, the group, which calls itself Reclaiming Our Homes, had taken over 12 houses. The occupations are both a plea for help for struggling families and a protest against the state’s failure to move faster to solve the housing crisis — which is obviously an even greater concern at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered people to stay at home to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Reclaim Our Homes

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing politicians to act in ways that just weeks ago seemed unthinkable. And activists like the Reclaimers are opening the cracks still wider.

 

 

DISSENT - This past weekend, accompanied (at a safe distance) by a handful of friends and allies, Martha Escudero and Benito Flores moved into vacant homes in Los Angeles’s El Sereno neighborhood. Part of a movement calling itself Reclaiming Our Homes, and accompanied by signs reading “This house IS a home,” “Housing is healthcare,” and “Housing is a human right,” they flocked into the vacant homes, bearing flowers and with children in tow, and prepared for self-isolation as the coronavirus continued to spread. In the days following their move-in, other homeless families have reclaimed twelve additional vacant homes in the area, all owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). “Being homeless myself and seeing people literally dying on the streets, seeing sick people dying every day in L.A., made me start realizing that, ‘Well, we need to do something, and we should probably just start taking over these vacant homes,’” Flores told me through a translator.

Backed by the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA), the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America, the LA Tenants Union, and Eastside Café, the Reclaimers were inspired by the Moms4Housing in Oakland, a group of housing-insecure black mothers who last November took up residence in a vacant, foreclosed home in the rapidly gentrifying city and won their battle to stay. The Reclaimers issued a set of demands, including turning “publicly-owned vacant property into public or social housing NOW,” opening up speculator-owned housing, a rent freeze and eviction and utility shut-off moratorium during the coronavirus emergency, and a halt to the criminalization of homelessness and the release of incarcerated people who do not pose a safety concern. Their arguments intrinsically link the housing and healthcare crises to the crisis of mass incarceration, understanding that the conditions created by an out-of-control housing market and an arrest-happy police department will only fuel the spread of illness. “The coronavirus pandemic—it is the spark that lit everything up, the drop that spilled the water,” Escudero explained by phone.

Homeless Moms Seize Houses as Coronavirus Rages

Facing a health crisis, California legislators call for a moratorium on evictions, utility shutoffs and foreclosures.

 

   

 

CAPITAL & MAIN - The red banner raised outside a modest suburban home in East Los Angeles was a dramatic new addition to the neighborhood. “Reclamando nuestros hogares,” it read in big block letters. It translates roughly as “Reclaiming our homes,” an explicit statement of protest and personal survival at a time of crisis on this quiet stretch of Sheffield Avenue.

Inside, Martha Escudero, 42, and her two young daughters, ages 8 and 10, were still settling in three days after the family and several community activists took control of the empty bungalow. The March 14 takeover was the first step in an ongoing campaign to provide shelter to homeless and housing-insecure Angelenos through the distribution of state-owned properties, just as the coronavirus pandemic reaches a crisis point.

“I’m Homeless—How Can I Self-Quarantine?”

In California, homeless and housing-insecure families struggle to find safe places to shelter from coronavirus. 

marie claire - Across from two of the tall, unnervingly skinny palm trees Los Angeles is known for, there is a light blue bungalow in a row of neat, single-story structures. After a historically dry winter, the city has just seen a bout of rain, which drummed on the brown, sloping roof of the building and turned the front yard a vivid green. Now, in the muddy soil and shade from the still-clouded sky, the home’s youngest new inhabitants set about their task of the day: digging into that wet soil and sprinkling seeds—they’re creating a vegetable garden. 

“They call it [the] ‘love and kindness garden,’” Martha Escudero tells me over the phone. In the background, a soft soundtrack of children’s voices pipes up intermittently.

As families across the United States prepare to ride out this medical crisis by self-isolating for weeks, or possibly longer, Escudero, a 42-year-old mother of two, is grateful for a safe space to call home. But the bungalow with the newly green yard isn’t actually theirs—it’s a vacant property, owned by the state of California.

Over the past week, health experts have increasingly called for communities to practice social distancing and self-isolation to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. But as reports of the sickness in California began trickling—then flooding—in and counties began calling for residents to “shelter in place,” Escudero and her daughters Victoria, 10, and Meztli, 8, didn’t know what to do. They had no place of their own to stay.

Unhoused Mothers in L.A. Take Over Vacant House, Demand Local Gov’t Use Vacant Properties to House People Immediately

DEMOCRACY NOW! - In Los Angeles, a group of unhoused mothers is trying to take over a vacant house and demanding the local government use all publicly owned vacant homes, libraries, recreation centers and other properties to house people immediately. This comes as the coronavirus is putting unhoused people and other vulnerable communities at a higher risk of infection.

Another group of homeless moms and families are taking over a house — this time in L.A.

LA TIMES - Weeks after a group of homeless mothers took over a vacant house in Oakland and managed to keep it, another group of moms is trying to do the same in Los Angeles.

On Saturday morning, the protesters and their families moved into a two-bedroom bungalow in El Sereno. They say they plan to remain indefinitely and potentially take over more houses.

They are calling on state and local governments to use all publicly owned vacant homes, libraries, recreation centers and other properties to house people immediately. They say the region’s extreme lack of affordable housing and the threat of the novel coronavirus pushed them to act.

“I am a mother of two daughters. I need a home,” said Martha Escudero, 42, who has spent the last 18 months living on couches with friends and family members in neighborhoods across East Los Angeles. “There’s these homes that are vacant, and they belong to the community.”

California Seniors Protest Eviction with ‘Walker Brigade’

        

Inequality . org - Just two days before Thanksgiving, the nearly 100 elderly residents of Brookdale San Pablo received an unfortunate holiday notice – they were going to be evicted. 

Brookdale, which operates around 800 senior living facilities across the United States, had decided not to renew the lease of their San Pablo location, which expired in January — leaving tenants scrambling in the midst of California’s affordable housing crisis. Brookdale’s move, which it called a “portfolio reset” earlier last year, means some tenants are concerned they’ll be moved far from their families and communities. Others are worried about the potential for homelessness given skyrocketing cost of living in the Bay Area. 

In the months since they received the notice, many Brookdale residents have left. But there are still a couple dozen tenants who can’t find anywhere affordable to move. They’re demanding better treatment by Brookdale, which has told them they have until the end of March to move, a local NBC affiliate reports. The residents told NBC they want either a settlement to help them move, or a plan that would allow them to stay in place in their homes. 

Read full article here.

They refused to pay rent for months. Now, it may pay off

The Mercury News - OAKLAND — After refusing to pay rent for four months, tenants striking in Fruitvale say their landlord has agreed to consider selling the building — a potential win for the strikers and their activist backers.

 

Some renters living in the 29th Avenue complex stopped paying rent in November, both to protest what they say are poor living conditions, and to pressure the owner to sell them the building through a local community land trust. If the bold strategy works, it will be the second recent victory for the group supporting them — Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment — which also helped Moms 4 Housing pressure a corporate landlord to negotiate the sale of the West Oakland home they’d been squatting in.

“Thanks to our fight, we have been heard by the owner of this building,” Maria Montes de Oca, who has lived in the 29th Avenue building for 11 years, said Thursday night before a crowd of several dozen neighbors and supporters. “We are closer than ever to buying this building.”

Read the full article here

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