# POLITICS /// Is Housing a Human Right? Considering the "Take Back the Land" Manifesto

It has been a very long time that I did not write about the movement Take Back the Land (see previous article) which allows to ask very interesting questions about civil disobedience and fundamental rights. This movement, often represented by Max Rameau, constitutes, to my knowledge, the most illustrative and efficient illegal practice of architecture. In fact, the movement reclaims city’s space that suffered from speculative operations (vacant parcels, foreclosed homes) in order to accommodate those who, precisely, were the human victims of these same operations. The resistive actions orchestrated by Take Back the Land, beyond the simple civil disobedience, are implemented within the broader framework of a dialogue with the local community (neighbors and other people helped by these actions). Such a dialogue, not only organizes a better control of a group of people on the space it lives in, but it also sustain the illegal operations in time as it creates processes of defensiveness within a whole neighborhood putting pressure on the municipal authorities and the police.

The movement’s objectives are interesting to look at as they introduces very clearly what those resistive operations are trying to achieve:

  • Fundamentally transform land relationships;
  • Elevate housing to the level of a human right;
  • Community control over land and housing;
  • Empower impacted communities, particularly low income communities of color.

In the frame of this article, I would like to examine the second of this objective which is probably the most ambitious as it proposes to reconsider fundamental legal documents at the national level (constitution) or at the international level (charter or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Declaring Housing as a human right was probably irrelevant few decades or centuries ago. I am not a historian but it seems that in most cities, one could find a piece of land and build his (her) own house with no fear to be expelled from it by law (the fears were probably more focused on catastrophes and wars). Both bureaucratic communism (see in China for example) and capitalism (see again in China (!) but also in the Western world) elaborated some logic by which one can never be sure to keep her (his) home for any given amount of time. Whether we consider eminent domain, gentrification or the continuous debt that the mortgage represents, a economico-legal system exists, which, evidently, does not recognize housing as a human right.

One additional thing I mentioned in a previous article is that democracies congratulates themselves for considering the right to vote as fundamental but, for many of them, one is required to have an address to be able to effectively vote. Of course, someone who struggles to survive on a daily basis probably does not care much about voting, but this contradiction is illustrative of the deep problem at stake here.

What Take Back the Land has in mind, when they fight for this fundamental right to housing, is very likely based on governmental policies on public housing and foreclosure regulations; however it is probably also interesting to consider the problem in a more abstract way. Along with the globalized control and ownership of the land, the hyper development of the cities makes it impossible to build and own a home without serious financial implications or unrelenting suppression by the authorities (see the systematic evictions of the gypsies in France and more generally in Europe for example). Try tomorrow to build a small shelter in a city’s streets and you will soon understand the absolute impossibility for some of us to have a home. In those conditions, housing as a human right does not necessarily starts with an active production of homes for all -even though this solution is much more appreciable- but rather as the abandonment of suppressive policies against any form of actions like the ones organized by Take Back the Land as well as their legalization. What it would mean is that homes cannot be the object of financial “games”, and that governmental empty buildings should systematically made available to serve this purpose. Our body is necessarily occupying a part of space, and this space should be able to accommodate it in a way that is not harmful to it.


Strat Mort

Thanks for the post. Really interesting topic, accompanied by the ‘occupy movement’ ideology, and i guess it is worth to mention this post https://tiqqunista.jottit.com/final_warning_to_the_imaginary_party
relating to public space and some contradictions.

Furthermore maybe i should mention a recent article of Zizek (here http://criticallegalthinking.com/2012/08/03/signs-from-the-future/) regarding the future of these revolts and manifestos.

I hope it helps.


Great post, this is an issue near to my heart, because I’ve seen what foreclose has done to my own family. My uncle had to relocate his family twice after his house was foreclosed, and my dad has pretty much lived under this consistent threat sense the housing crises hit his biasness back in ’07, he’s come nearly unglued several times during this pried. Even still my family probably enjoys fare more economic privilege then they will ever be able to truly appreciate, and while this is the case, it seems to me that the reposition of these properties are essentially the same as all forms of imperialism around the world.
I think that the deprivation of land access by an authority structure is the essence of imperialism. The reason I say this is because, it is from the earth that we get all our food and shelter, and if someone wants to control us the most effective way to do so is by depriving us access to those things, but it doesn’t really give them power just to deprive us of what we need, that would just kill us, (of cause fear is vary important in power), they have to give it back to us in such a way as to maintain our dependence on them. This is what imperialists have always done, and I think its close to what Marx meant by commodity fetish, because it’s through the spectacle of economic systems that we lose sight of what really sustains life.

Thank you for bringing to light the fact that with in this globalizing power structure, the possibility of being expelled from ones land by the law is always present. I think vary few people understand this and how crucial this is to the imperialist structure, also the fact that this is happening not just abroad but also in our own country, really goes to show how ubiquitous imperialism really is.

We might never really understand the extent of our privilege here in the United States, but I think the other side of that is that we might never really understand the true nature of our oppression ether. I imagine in other countries if the people where given the opportunity to own land and grow food for their communities than they would take that opportunity and live free, but here its different, here we have people on food stamps eating Twinkies living on arable land, which seeth with life giving potential. Here we have people so wealthy they would never have to work another day in their life, but they blow it all on stock market table gambling. These are two very different things but what I think they both have incoming is an alienation from the true sores of freedom, and it’s not about individualism, but dependency is so often used for control. I think of 3 option, it’s an anarchist principal; freedom of association, and where does this come from? What a great notion, neither individualist nor cohesive, it implies that you chose who you will depend on, and I think this is so important for any opposition to imperialism; because imperialism sets the system of dependency.

But at last the state exists and so do a lot of other imperialism forces, and really the state isn’t all bad. Oh shore it derives every bit of its power through violence, but it also provides good things, essential things, like hospitals, roads, parks, psychiatric services, health care, defense services, and so on and so forth. These things are not really bad, there good. So the state is good, but imperialism persists through the state. At any rate what I like about your article is that you bring light to something that is so over looked, housing is a right, and I would like to add that the revoking of that right is the essence of imperialism.

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