Take Back the Land: Interview with Max Rameau

CNN, 6 December 2008

Max Rameau, community activist and founding member of Take Back the Land: We only move families into government-owned homes or bank-owned foreclosures, not into places that are owned by individuals. . . .  Looking at it from the taxpayer’s point of view, these banks are getting billions of dollars, literally billions of dollars, in bailout money, and yet while they are getting those billions of dollars, they are allowed to keep these assets, these homes, and they are keeping them vacant.  I don’t think it makes much sense for the government to give billions of dollars to these banks in grants and loans . . . while these homes are allowed to remain vacant and there are people homeless on the street.  Either don’t take the money, or give up the houses so people can, human beings can, benefit from them, not corporations. . . .  There are a lot of supplies.  The supplies are somewhat compromised by the fact that these homes are left vacant for incredibly long periods of time when no one is living in them, and at some point, others get into them and they steal copper wiring or plumbing or things like that.  So, the other benefit of having these families there is that they have an interest in maintaining the home in which they are staying, and the condition of the home is much better than if these places were left open and vacant.  So, the families get a decent place to stay, and actually the property is maintained a lot better than if they weren’t there. . . .  A good number of the families we’ve helped have been evicted themselves . . . several who were foreclosed on and several who were renting when they were evicted.  And they are trying to make ends meet.  The price of housings still hasn’t come down enough so that a good number of people can afford them.  These are people who ran out of options, so they are able to go there, save a little money, so when they move on to the next location, they’ve saved enough money to pay rent.  I think the demand is there, and the supply is clearly there, where there are all these vacant homes, and it’s not benefiting the banks at all right now — they are getting the money for these houses from these billions of dollars of bailout.  So, I think it’s immoral to have vacant, empty homes on one side of the street and homeless families living in parks and sleeping in bushes on the other side of the street.  It makes perfect sense to match these vacant homes, these peopleless homes, with homeless people.

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“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.   It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.  The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.” — David Harvey, “The Right to the City”

For more information about Take Back the Land, go to <takebacktheland.org/>.  The text above is a partial transcript of the interview.