A Winning Narrative: AEC-supported move-in of homeless family into people-less home


The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) held a “well-planned and orchestrated” action on June 17th, reads the New York Times.  In Saturday’s paper, the widely read Times published a striking piece that, despite the title, seems to capture the spirit of the AEC and Biggs family.

[To note, it seems the Times changed the article's title from its original: "New Tenants for a Foreclosed Home"].

The Times piece is framed by the Biggs kids’ excitement to be moving into the people-less home after bouts of homelessness.  In fact, the opening paragraph paints a picture of the two youngest Biggs chanting “a nursery rhyme for the age of foreclosure”: “Fight, fight, fight, ‘cause housing is a human right.”  And, it is the strength of the Biggs family that closes out the Times piece, with highlights of how Martha Biggs worked alongside community volunteers to put up dry wall and install tile and plumbing, as well as her daughter’s successful graduation from middle school, despite the family’s homelessness.

In-between, via powerful quotes from J.R. Fleming (founder of the AEC) and Pat Hill (E.D. of the International Year of People of African Descent) and mom of the former owner of the property), many aspects of the AEC’s message are surprisingly clear in the Times article:

  • The coexistence of people-less homes and homeless people is indicative of a serious systemic problem;
  • The people-less homes, which are being scavenged for copper, fixtures and so on, are a problem for the community;
  • The banks are getting bailed out and doing nothing to help the families and communities devastated by the same entities’ risky and often predatory practices; and
  • What the AEC and the Biggs have done, with the support of neighbors and members of the community, is rejuvenating and remarkable (marked by freshly painted rooms, donated dining room set, and the happy sound of giggling) in a community ravaged by foreclosures.

Even the far right’s spokesman Glenn Beck, whose newspaper The Blaze recently focused in on Take Back the Land’s (TBTL) well-publicized May eviction defense of Catherine Lennon, seemed unable to successfully wage an attack on the group’s (and the human right to housing movements’) moral assertion that “housing is a human right, not a commodity.”  A June 24 article did little more than raise questions about TBTL’s human rights-based platform.

The Biggs’ move-in is only the latest of several significant successes in the U.S. human right to housing movement.  Locally, the AEC, which from its inception has recognized that the threat of forced evictions and displacement are presently impacting public and private renters and homeowners, has won two temporary moratoriums on “all economically-motivated evictions” in Cook County, Illinois through community-led eviction defense efforts (find media round-up here).  Notably, nationally, the Biggs’ move-in comes a little over one month after Ms. Lennon, with the support of TBTL Rochester and Lennon’s neighbors, successfully moved back into her home and defended her family from eviction after a bank foreclosure threatened to leave another home vacant (see Van Jones’ Huffington Post piece on the Rochester “live-in”).

Next on the AEC’s to do list is fostering the growth of alternative visions for housing and land use built on the pillars of human rights principles, which they hope will support the development of neighborhood-based models of ownership and greater housing stability for all members of the community.