A Home By Any Means Necessary: Government Policy on Squatting in the Public Housing of a Large Mid-Atlantic City
Andrew H. Maxwell
Maxwell demonstrates the coercive but ineffective approach of a highly urbanized, East Coast government housing authority toward squatters in public housing. The government views squatters as violating the sanctity of property and thus as "pathological" and a threat to the existing social order. The police vandalize squatters' belongings when they make evictions, and they engage in other brutalities as well. Behind these actions lie poor management, political patronage, and the fiscal advantages of maintaining empty apartments that remain subsidized by the federal government. Maxwell recommends that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stop allocating public housing subsidies on a per-unit basis, subsidize only occupied units, and not evict squatters automatically.
This chapter explores aspects of municipal and federal government policy that contribute to squatting in the public housing projects of a large mid-Atlantic city. The "Mid-Atlantic Redevelopment and Housing Authority" (MARHA)--a pseudonym--is the agency responsible for constructing and managing "Mid-Atlantic City's" public housing. It is bound by the basic HUD requirement of providing "decent, safe, and sanitary" shelter for people who meet specified income qualifications. MARHA has been unable to fulfill this requirement. It has consistently ranked among the worst local agencies in providing adequate shelter. For example, MARHA's public housing ranks behind Detroit and East St. Louis, with roughly a third of the apartment units vacant. The dimensions of the vacancy problem come into even sharper focus when Mid-Atlantic City's estimated thirteen thousand homeless people are taken into account.
There is a cruel irony in the relationship between HUD and MARHA. Ironically, federal policy encourages local authorities to keep apartments empty. The housing