Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Learning as we go"

In the face of the suburban collapse brought on by mass foreclosures, Americans slowly learn to band together for safety and survival on a neighborhood level. Government police show little interest in protecting citizens from crime (which is not their true mission, despite propaganda to the contrary), so citizens must take the initiative when squatters move into abandoned homes.

Because these squatters have been so hard to evict, neighbors in many high-foreclosure communities have been forced to take matters into their own hands.

After squatters moved into several houses in Scott Elliot's 1,100-home gated community in Riverside County, Calif., he and other neighbors banded together to make life difficult for the squatters that police refused to throw out and to try to prevent new ones from moving in.

They tipped off the local news channel about these occupants to get news crews out filming them, and they formed a neighborhood watch of all of Victoria Grove's empty houses. They collected phone numbers for the local police as well as for the real-estate asset managers of all the vacant properties, and the neighbors called whenever they saw suspicious activity.

"In 15 to 20 minutes, we can have 30 people there standing outside. It's a show of force," says Elliot, a retired attorney who heads the community maintenance association.

In one case, these neighbors called the authorities early enough to get a new set of squatters out, who had pulled up to a house a half-hour after the last ones had been evicted, Elliot says.

"We are learning as we go," Elliot says. "We have succeeded in getting five groups of squatters out. I think we have the upper hand now, and our community is really together for the first time."

This is just the beginning. Victoria Grove is defensible in its current state of organization as long as a sufficient number of its inhabitants remain employed, and the neighborhood alliance can call on the police for backup. Things will get interesting when layoffs compel the neighbors to choose between leaving and becoming mortgage-delinquent squatters in their own homes. The alliance, apparently just a confederation of families at this point, might evolve into some kind of village government, determined to resist bank agents and unauthorized squatters alike. A more or less stable arrangement if the police decide to play along. If the bankruptcy of local civil government results in the dissolution of the police force, things will get really interesting.

1 comment:

  1. A concrete example of the sort of changes we theorized in other forums. This shift toward village life is a good thing, and is the way humans were designed to live.