Vida Urbana

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= U.S.-based movement for the Urban Commons


Philip Cryan:

"City Life/Vida Urbana, a community organization in Boston that is a founding member of the Right to the City alliance, has taken a leading role in demonstrating how grassroots groups can transform the debate about foreclosures. Over the last couple years, City Life/Vida Urbana has led more than a dozen eviction blockades, in which community members join people facing foreclosure to assert people’s right to remain in their homes. Some community members block the entrance to the building, risking arrest, while scores of others stand in support in the front yard or the sidewalk in front of the building. This is “a last-resort effort,” notes City Life/Vida Urbana tenant organizer Soledad Lawrence. “After we’ve attempted to secure their right to stay in their home through the courts, and after negotiations with the bank or the servicing company working for the bank – when all that fails, we do a blockade.” In every eviction blockade organized by City Life/Vida Urbana so far, Lawrence adds, “the bank has backed down. The constable has never even made it to the building. In many cases, the city called the bank to ask them to sit down and work out a negotiation.”

City Life/Vida Urbana organizer Steve Meacham told the Boston Globe, “the eviction [protest] brings a lot of publicity and attention … it raises the issue of who’s getting bailed out and who’s getting stiffed.” In other words, community members altered the terms of debate by making the questions of ownership, rights and eviction moral and public issues.

In the process of defending their neighbors’ right to remain in their homes, community members who participate in the blockades gain some powerful first-hand knowledge about the relationship between rights and collective action, property and political power. They are vividly reminded of the simple fact, noted by prominent commons scholars Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University and Nives Dolsak of the University of Washington, that “the allocation of rights to resources … is a political act.” Property is a social right, after all, something defined not by the individual owner but by the society of which he or she is part. In bringing this simple fact to light, the eviction blockades resemble the “penny auctions” of the 1930s, in which dozens or hundreds of farmers would show up at foreclosure auctions for their neighbors’ farms, bid a penny and then dare any oustsider or banker to try bidding more.

City Life/Vida Urbana’s anti-eviction strategy grew out of years of work during the real estate bubble defending city residents from forced out of their homes by skyrocketing property values and gentrification. City Life/Vida Urbana set up what they called an “Anti-Displacement Zone,” and organized tenants to respond as a group to any attempts to evict other residents of the zone. As City Life/Vida Urbana’s efforts demonstrate, the real issue at stake is people’s right to stay in their homes and neighborhoods.

In the last year, eviction blockades and other forms of protest against foreclosures have spread to cities throughout the country, from Philadelphia to Cleveland to Oakland. In many cases they have been successful in getting lenders to renegotiate loan terms. Collective action defending the right to the city has kept people in their homes." (