Taking Homes and Defending Neighborhoods In Houston, TX

by Peter Cooper

Jamin Stocker and his girlfriend were looking to buy a house in the Third Ward neighborhood in Houston when they noticed an abandoned, though recently remodeled house without a for sale sign. They researched the property online and discovered that even though bank Fannie Mae owned the bright orange 2600 sq. ft. house, it was not posted for sale.

“Fannie Mae, like with many banks, has a ‘shadow inventory’ of homes that it keeps off the market so that its price does not fall below a certain minimum,” says the Southwest Defense Network, who are currently aiding in organizing around the house. Attempts to contact the previous owner, the victim of a foreclosure, failed. Stocker and a group moved to transform the empty building into a housing and organizing center, named O.U.R. House.

picture of a forclosed homeStocker got the utilities turned on in his name and he and his girlfriend changed the locks on the house. They moved into the house on March 28th this year and lived, organizing a bike co-op for the neighborhood, and hosting other political and worker organizations, undisturbed.

On July 15th a notice to vacate from Fannie Mae arrived, but the occupants stayed on, waiting for a formal eviction notice. They had still not received one when on August 3rd Houston police appeared and threw everybody out. Residents grabbed what they could on the way out the door and all remaining belongings were impounded, though they could be ransomed for a fee.

That night, when the house was undefended, Jamin moved back in. After some time, the police visited again, and Jamin was arrested for trespassing, spending a night in jail.

Evictions like this in the Third Ward and around Houston are not unique. Police show up in force and only give people time to grab what they can carry. Squatting happens regularly in Houston, but Stocker remembers none being organized in this manner.

After the evictions, the occupants reached out to the Southwest Defense Network, who organize around housing in Southwest Houston. Folks then formed another group, the Third Ward Defense Network. The two work closely, but the Third Ward Defense Network is primarily focused on fighting foreclosures and evictions in the neighborhood where O.U.R. House is located.

From the Southwest Defense Network:

“What is happening to J.’s home is part of a bigger picture of a housing crisis in Houston. While housing for working and poor people is squeezed and falling apart (including in the Third Ward), inside the 610 loop there is a massive building and buying spree for the affluent. J. hopes that fighting back can be a spark to spread the spirit of resistance to these injustices.”

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