Squatting for survival in Philadelphia: What it’s like to live in a ‘takeover house’

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Contributed date

June 2, 2021 - 2:54pm

Critical Commentary

The article goes in-depth about the history of squatting in the city of Philadelphia and the situations that lead to squatting in cities like Philadelphia with high unemployment, homelessness, transient or intermittent housing, and high percentages of low-income households (Chicago for example). While entities like the Philadelphia Housing Authority and banks who 'own' vacant homes may see squatting as an infringement of rights and an unlawful occupation of the property, people and families who 'engage' in squatting or more benevolently called homesteading, actually shed light on a much deeper and often overlooked issue in Philadelphia, and the United States in general: homelessness and housing unaffordability. The pandemic has worsened economic situations for many households who, despite COVID-19 related protections, faced evictions and shutoffs. Homesteading offers a solution, albeit temporary, to the transient homelessness faced by some families. Additionally, as cited in the article, homesteaders also do much to 'restore' the homes to livable conditions, which is a positive action if one considers the fact authorities like banks or PHA may even demolish houses.

One other topic of discussion to be addressed here is the discussion of housing as a right, but also why these homes are vacant. John Street did say homesteaders have a right to occupy space that was not taken care of, abandoned, and neglected, but this view (as much as policymakers' views) places the burden and fault on the consumer, the homeowner, the individual and not necessarily on an unequal system that pushes property owners to disregard maintenance on their homes and that enables properties to become run-down. This system is also partially responsible and reproduced in the utility payment networks, where individuals and households are forced to give up some primary needs to satisfy payments or other primary needs. In other words, the prior is to say that vacant housing itself is indicative of the unequal distribution and access of resources in our society, where families pushed out of their homes for neglected payments leave room for other families in precarious situations to 'take over. Essentially, vacant homes here tell us about a vicious cycle of transient homelessness experienced by multiple people: the previous owners of the household and the different families of homesteaders that settle for limited periods of time within it.

Additionally, the article's discussion of an underground network of homesteaders brings to light the concept of inward outlook and whether we are aware of issues like transient housing, homesteading. This is supported by the article's discussion of how squatting activists try to find vacant homes where pushback is least likely, i.e. in areas where home occupation and revitalization are welcome. It is not surprising that these 'takeovers' may occur in less than wealthy areas, given wealthy areas tend to easily identify 'intruders' and 'outsiders'. Ultimately, the article also shows that, even with the numbers at hand, authorities may not be well-intentioned to use resources, such as vacant housing, in addition to shelters to combat the issue of housing unaffordability that plagues, and has plagued, Philadelphia and other cities like it. 


Marin, Max. “ Squatting for survival in Philadelphia: What it’s like to live in a ‘takeover house’.” BillyPenn, May 24, 2021, https://billypenn.com/2021/05/24/philadelphia-vacant-homes-squatting-homeless-housing-crisis-history/.

Cite as

Max Marin, "Squatting for survival in Philadelphia: What it’s like to live in a ‘takeover house’ ", contributed by Briana Leone and Alison Kenner, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 2 June 2021, accessed 19 April 2024. https://energyrights.info/content/squatting-survival-philadelphia-what-it’s-live-‘takeover-house’