Mother Jones

RETAKE THE HOUSE

Squatters are pioneering a bold—and possibly legal—way to combat the housing crisis.
Christine Hernandez and her daughter Sofia Lina in their Oakland home

CHRISTINE HERNANDEZ, a mother of four, slender in stature and bold in manner, knows how to scout for abandoned homes—the bleak dwellings with the boarded-up windows and ripped-out drywall, their innards packed with leftover syringes, rotting debris, and the peculiar loot of previous dispossessed tenants. She says it’s best to send someone who won’t draw too much suspicion from cops or neighbors. “I’m a woman, and small,” she notes. “Not super intimidating, you know?”

It was about two years ago when Hernandez, who works at a community development organization, and her husband, Emilio, a painter, were forced to leave their ramshackle home in Oakland, California, after trying to get their landlord to make repairs. They started touring listings and seeking out “For Rent” signs in windows. But in the nutso housing crisis plaguing the Bay Area, where one-bedroom apartments in Oakland rent for more than $2,000 a month—never mind a home with space for a family of six—they found themselves, like so many others, hopelessly priced out. What they did notice was a shocking abundance of forsaken properties. They started performing reconnaissance.

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