Squatters Fight for Rights

A homeless mom wants her stuff back.

Maybe Riptide has been watching too much CNN, but we can't help feeling like we're headed for an apocalyptic crash-and-burn not seen since Hoover began building shacks in Central Park. Thousands of homes in South Florida are in foreclosure, squatters are taking up residence, and when said squatters get booted, they demand a proper eviction notice.

Last week, New Times brought you the story of Cassy, a homeless Haitian mother who moved into a nice foreclosed home in Buena Vista with her young daughter. Cassy returned to the $263,000 house a few days later to find it raided. Everything was gone: Her small TV set, photos of the kids, college transcripts, even her toothbrush.

She would have guessed it was a burglar, but the lock on the front door had been changed. (She entered through a sliding door in the back.)

Then it sunk in. "It was a real estate agent playing violent games," she says. "I feel violated — this is outright thievery." Sure, Cassy was illegally staying at the unused house — but that doesn't mean she isn't entitled to a little respect.

Activists are taking it one step further. Take Back the Land, the group that led her to the house in early November, argues a tenant-landlord relationship should apply. "When you evict someone, you can't take their stuff," director Max Rameau says. "We're prepared to defend her right to stay."

Rameau operates by a simple but contentious philosophy: A human has more right to a home than a bank has to keep it empty. He hopes to finagle an agreement with real estate agents, who work for Remax, regarding her temporary residency.

But Remax spokesman Shaun White is skeptical. "Yes, I'd like all homeless people to have a place to stay," he says. "But you can't take other people's property."

Cassy is not budging, even though she fears police might kick her out.

Adds Rameau: "We want her there until the house is sold."

 
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