If you haven’t read this piece yet, I highly recommend it. Talks about the national housing crisis (in foreclosures & rental housing) and how to make transformative demands that can truly shift power from banks & the financial sector back to people & communities. It comes from Right to the City, which is a coalition that City Life & Chinese Progressive Assoc are part o
Housing & Land: A Need for Transformative Demands
Right to the City’s Transformative Demands Working Paper Series No. 1
The Housing Crisis
There has always been a crisis of housing for the poor. Before the subprime crisis sparked
today’s recession/depression, working class communities, and particularly communities of color,
were already impacted by deeply rooted structural inequalities. For decades, suburbanization,
urban removal, and redlining (predatory lending in reverse) reinforced segregation. An era of
vast neglect gave way to a period of mass speculation. By the 1970s and 1980s, cash-strapped
city governments began to explicitly pursue public land and housing for investment and profit.
As cities and regions became driven by revenue growth, elected officials transferred key
questions of public policy to powerful private corporate actors. With their profits declining,
corporations turned increasingly to land and housing for short-term returns. Neoliberal policies
gained traction, guided by principles of deregulation and privatization. Cuts in social services
became prevalent, especially impacting the many women who headed working class
households. Public housing, neglected for years, became a prime target for privatization
resulting in the loss of over 400,000 units since 1995, a massive transfer of property to private
What was an ongoing crisis for the poor became a new crisis for millions more. The
impact of the 2007/2008 housing crisis has extended beyond working class communities of
color to working class and middle class communities across ethnicity, race, and urban/suburban
divides. During the height of gentrification, from the mid 1990s – early 2000s, the banks
practiced predatory lending by openly targeting vulnerable households to buy homes and take
on unsustainable debt. As the housing bubble grew, banks played houses as casino chips,
gambling away people’s mortgages, and their homes, to finance investors looking for enormous
and quick profits. Corporations’ influence over government won them deregulation and thus
minimal government interference in this high-risk game of chance. When the crisis hit,
homeowners took on the burden of the banks’ risks through mushrooming payments, and
overleveraged homes. While banks continue to package and sell debt to speculators for profit,
homeowners threatened by foreclosure struggle to pay increasing mortgage payments with
decreasing paychecks. Renters in overleveraged apartment buildings have also experienced
the impact of foreclosure as slumlord banks fail to maintain buildings and often force evictions.
The current crisis has led to two consequences:
1 See our full report on the state of public housing at http://www.righttothecity.org/we-call-these-projects-
1) A massive transfer (theft) of wealth from people to banks. The banks have taken homes from
millions of people. Currently over 11 million homeowners have underwater mortgages, and
foreclosures are projected to reach 6 million by 2013.2
The disproportionate targeting of
Carey, Nick. “Americans brace for next foreclosure wave.” Reuters. 4 Apr. 2012.
(http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/04/us-foreclosure-idUSBRE83319E20120404). 12 Apr. 2012.
communities of color by predatory lending led to the greatest loss of Black wealth in a century.
Meanwhile, the millions of foreclosures have led to more than 2 million children pushed from
their homes, and another 6 million children at risk of homelessness.4
As millions of homes go
vacant, rental prices have soared. Not only did the banks make exorbitant profits through
inflated debt, fees, and securitization of mortgages, the financial system received what a recent
Ford Foundation sponsored study revealed to be not $700 billion, but $29 trillion in bailout funds
paid for by U.S. tax-payers.
The Movement’s Response
2) The unprecedented degree of control banks hold over housing and land. Over 95% of the
housing stock in this country is privately owned and much of this is controlled by banks through
With deregulation, banks gained unprecedented ability to use this housing stock to
speculate, making large profits while foreclosing on millions of homes.
While the current crisis is causing mass suffering, a growing resistance movement is
fighting back and winning significant victories. Through recent expanded foreclosure and
anti-displacement organizing, many more residents and activists are joining the movement.
Different sectors of the movement are working more closely together, including community
groups, Occupy, labor and environment sectors. The movement is countering the greed and
racism of Wall Street, with different values and visions.
Our vision is rooted in the understanding that housing is a human right. Housing must
first and foremost be created and exist to meet people’s needs. It should not principally be a
commodity to be bought and sold for profit. Our vision can only exist with what we name as the
right to the city: the collective right of all people to
create democracy and control resources
where they live to meet their needs and thrive.
Grounded in this vision, we see three current opportunities for our movement.
1) To grow the housing justice movement from thousands to hundreds of thousands (if not
millions) led by those directly impacted. The breadth of the crisis and the rising consciousness
make this growth possible. We now can imagine uniting homeowners, renters, public housing
residents, and homeless individuals and families. We can see new levels of partnerships
between the different sectors of the movement.
2) To raise consciousness. The time is ripe to challenge, uproot and replace dominant values
and ideas that cause people so much harm. As we organize, we must deliberately make time to
dialogue and develop our own analyses and solutions. We must not be narrow, but explore and
address race, gender, class, and ecology in this process.
3) To develop, fight for and win transformative demands.
3 http://www.faireconomy.org/files/StateOfDream_01_16_08_Web.pdf 4http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2012/0418_foreclosures_children_isaacs/0418_forecl osures_children_isaacs.pdf
6 Michael Stone, Right to Housing, p 240.
We need transformative demands to connect our fights to our vision and belief in housing as a
human right. Where we were defensive, we can now be offensive. Where we were timid, we
can be bold. In this moment, with deliberateness and successful strategies, we can build to
hundreds of thousands and we can win concrete victories that shift the balance of power. This
can only happen when we dream it and fight for it. We no longer have the excuse that people
are not ready or that the time is not right.
Transformative demands address the root cause(s) of a problem in society, alter power
relations, and cause systemic change. For Right to the City, transformative demands possess
the following characteristics:
i. Solutions that Put People’s Needs Over Profit: Transformative demands are grounded in
the premise that the economy exists to serve the needs of the people and the planet rather than
maximizing profit. They put forward creative solutions that go beyond defending what we have
now, to creating alternatives that allow people and communities to control land and housing.
ii. Social Ownership: Transformative demands move economic ownership and decision-
making from banks and large companies to residents and communities. Tactics can be diverse
and creative and address the needs of current homeowners, renters, public housing residents
and homeless individuals/families. Examples of tactics may include worker and consumer
limited equity cooperatives, community land trusts, and creative social housing development by
iii. Democratic Control: Transformative demands seek democratic control within social
housing and over private housing. They operate on the assumption that social ownership alone
is not enough. Whatever the form of social ownership, whether limited equity, land trusts, public
housing, etc, residents and communities must be the primary decision-makers. Also, there
must be democratic decision-making for public decisions over the allocation, location, and
standards of private housing.
iv. Scale: Transformative demands have the potential to achieve scale. They can be local,
regional and national in scope. They may begin locally and small but can be replicated and
adapted to communities, cities and regions across the country to impact millions of people.
v. Consciousness: Transformative demands are part of campaigns and fights that develop the
consciousness of members, activists and the larger public. We seek to increase awareness on
many fronts: the importance of organizing, analyses of the problem(s), our
values/principles/vision, and our concrete solutions.
An historic example of a transformative demand. We often draw from the lessons of the civil
rights era to reflect on the power and challenges of movement moments. An example of a
transformative demand from that time was the demand to “End Jim Crow,” which included the
demand for full enfranchisement for African Americans. Transitional demands such as an end to
segregation of lunch counters, buses, and schools, for example, connected to the larger
demand to transform southern society. The transitional demands played an important role by
organizing impacted communities and their allies through creative, local, and replicable actions.
However, participants in these actions never lost sight of their larger transformative demands.
Housing and Land Examples of Transformative and Transitional Demands
We believe two key transformative demands in this moment are as follows:
Transformative demands reflect the systemic-change criteria listed above. They must relate to
the root cause of the problem which, in relation to the housing crisis, is the banks’ and Wall
Street investors’ use of housing and land as commodities to make enormous profits at the
expense of residents and communities.
● Win Community Controlled Housing. We must demand the transfer of bank and
government owned unoccupied properties to non-profits and communities, as well as the
conversion of their rental occupied properties to forms of collective ownership that
maintains permanent affordability. The current crisis allows us to call into question
banks’ control of the majority of housing and land in this country for profit and
speculation. These unoccupied and rental properties can be placed under permanent
resident and community control through different forms of social ownership, i.e.
community land trusts and limited equity models.
● Create a Community Reinvestment Bank. We can now demand pushing profit driven
banks out of the housing business altogether. We can call for the creation of a
Community Reinvestment Bank and new financial institutions that serve people’s
housing needs. This bank should operate at national and local levels and should have
adequate resources for those communities hardest hit by the crisis.
Transitional demands can be key to making transformative demands possible, but alone these
demands do not adequately alter power relations. The following are examples of current
transitional demands that are critical towards realizing transformative demands:
● Win Principal Reduction. Winning principal reduction for millions must be seen as one
step towards realizing housing as a human right. This step restricts a bank’s profits, and
asserts that people’s housing needs must come before greed. Principal reduction allows
residents to reduce their debt and stay in their homes. However, principal reduction
alone is not enough. It does not address the needs of renters, homeless
individuals/familes, and the homeowners who even with principal reduction cannot afford
to stay in their homes. And as long as banks retain significant control to speculate and
gamble with mortgages, new crises will occur and our housing will not be secure. Thus,
we also need transformative demands like the ones above.
● Make Banks Pay. One way to hold banks accountable is through passing local
ordinances that exact mandatory fees for each foreclosed property. These fees
generate immediate funds to maintain unoccupied properties, possibly as a first step to
resident and community ownership. An example of such an ordinance was won in
Springfield, Massachusetts in July 2011 by Springfield No One Leaves and City
Councilor Amaad Rivera.
● Win Housing through PILOTs (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). Hospitals, academic
institutions and some for profit companies (like Smith and Wesson in Springfield,
Massachusetts) are given tax-free status and have to “establish” a contract with local
municipalities to make a “payment.” Residents can pressure municipalities to modify the
contracts to meet their needs. These agreements can include anything from community
owned housing to substantial financial resources for community development.
Continue the dialogue. Take back and share this document with members of your
organization, allies, organizers and residents in your city. Assess the transformative demand
examples given here, and discuss what other transformative demands are needed to reach the
opportunities of this moment. Consider how the demands in your current fights express and
lead to transformative demands. How might your work change or expand to address
transformative demands? If you are already making transformative demands, identify steps you
can take to share your local model with other groups and cities.
Right to the City will continue to circulate this paper, and hold more Urban Congresses across
the country. A Transformative Demands Paper No. 2 will unpack specific “living” transformative
demands, strategy, and tactics generated and promoted in the ongoing congresses and forums.
We encourage dialogue around ideas for transformative demands, but just as importantly, we
must ask how we can expand our movement and how we can address the current
contradictions and tensions we face to build the power necessary to fight for and win our
Organize and Keep Fighting Now. Fight to keep people in their homes using all necessary
strategies and tactics. Grow the mass resistance to foreclosure and eviction being organized in
Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham, Asheville, Wilmington NC, Boston, Oakland and other cities
across the country. Fight to win principal reduction. Develop and fight for transformative
demands. Consider what has worked in other cities, and adapt and replicate models that are
This working paper was developed by:
Right to the City’s Transformative Demands Team
Causa Justa/Just Cause: Robbie Clark, Dawn Phillips
City Life/Vida Urbana: Steve Meacham, Melonie Griffiths
Community Voices Heard: Mo George, Vincent Villano
Direct Action for Rights and Equality: Christopher Rotondo, Theresa Price
East LA Community Corporation: Mike Dennis
Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance: Alexandra Suh
Miami Workers Center: Hashim Benford
Mothers on the Move: Nova Strachan, Wanda Salaman
Springfield No One Leaves: Malcolm Chu, Sellou Diaite, David Dunwell
Right To The City Staff: Tony Romano, Rachel LaForest, Mark Swier
Resource Allies: Marnie Brady, Tony Roshan Samara, Gilda Haas, Peter Marcuse and Amaad Rivera