Take Back the Land: What we stand for

Published June 10th 2010 in the The Capital Times online.

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/column/article_5e9c3b64-58e4-5cef-adef-6e5181a9ac95.html

You might have read about Take Back the Land in The Capital Times or seen us on the news recently.

Here’s what we stand for.

Our group believes that housing should be a human right.

We believe that there should be community control over land.

We defend families from foreclosure-related evictions.

We protect families from eviction from public housing.

We assist homeless families to move into vacant, bank-owned homes.

We believe that it is the responsibility of the federal, state and local governments to ensure compliance with Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that all people have the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their family, including housing.

During the current foreclosure crisis and economic recession, we believe it is our moral obligation and legal duty to ensure that all people have housing — and that includes the 25 percent of Dane County’s population who are forced to pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing expenses.

Just as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz recently argued that the banks should bite the bullet and write off a large part of the debt for the Overture Center, we would argue that the lenders have made enough money on homeowners’ debt already.

We urge the following changes in policy:

1. Corporate, bailed-out banks should sell vacant properties for $1 each to local, community-run nonprofits (such as the Madison Area Community Land Trust) to turn into affordable housing for low-income families — where families would rent housing for 25 percent of their income and participate in decision-making about how the community property is managed.

2. The police and sheriff’s departments should adopt a policy of nonenforcement of foreclosure-related evictions and evictions from bank-owned properties (as has happened in Detroit and Miami), allowing families to continue living in properties that would otherwise remain vacant.

3. The Madison City Council and Dane County Board should adopt a vacant housing ordinance in which the owners of vacant properties are fined progressively for keeping a property vacant for more than a year (thus encouraging these properties to be sold for owner-occupancy or rented for the benefit of families needing housing). The fines should be used to finance the affordable housing project that manages the bank-sold properties.

4. The City Council and County Board should adopt an ordinance halting foreclosure-related evictions, instead requiring banks to sign one-year leases for the current residents whereby they would pay 25 percent of their income in rent.

5. The Community Development Authority and the Dane County Housing Authority and managers of private Section 8 housing projects should put a halt to all evictions except those deemed to be a safety hazard to the community, determined by a two-thirds vote of housing residents as part of a community council.

6. The city should make it legal for homeless people to sleep in public parks if they have no other place to go.

7. The city should provide funding for affordable housing at a rate of 20 percent more than now provided through federal, state, and local funds until the affordable housing units in Madison reach the needs in the community.

Take Back the Land-Madison is eager to meet with representatives from bailed-out financial institutions (such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bank of America), Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Police Chief Noble Wray, Sheriff Dave Mahoney, members of Madison’s City Council and the Dane County Board, and authorities from public housing agencies and managers of private Section 8 housing projects.

We acknowledge that these are tough, communitywide issues and invite everyone to get involved in this conversation. Let’s think creatively and take action as a community to make housing a human right.

This column was submitted by Kimayana Johnson and Kristen Petroshius of Take Back the Land-Madison.

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