Sunday, June 1, 2008

Compare: It's Like Looking In A (Broken) Mirror


"From the 2007 outset of his five-year term, French president Nicolas Sarkozy began to impose commonsense economic reforms. In a country hobbled by a socialist mentality and ignorance of economics, this has naturally reduced his popularity. Labor unions strike and demonstrate, extreme-Left parties threaten to overthrow the government, and dockhands and fishermen block ports. And when the nanny state doesn’t give generously, many French react like spoiled children. The trendy squatters who were recently kicked out of a Paris building is a case in point.

Spearheading the occupation was a collective called Jeudi Noir (Black Thursday)—self-appointed champions of liberty, justice, and housing for all, unconcerned about the rights of property owners or the needs of the downtrodden. Convinced that the housing problems of students and young wage earners cannot be solved without strict controls on property rights that would effectively prohibit sharp rises in real estate values, Jeudi Noir and other groups squat in whole buildings—one near the stock exchange, for instance, which they named the Housing Crisis Ministry and occupied for over a year."

-- Nidra Poller, writing for New York's City Journal


"'People would hear about it through the grapevine, hop off a freight train, and show up on our doorstep with a backpack, a banjo, and a Woody Guthrie song,' says Steve DiCaprio, a tenant who moved into the house in 2001 with his wife after living in a van out front. 'We had an open-door policy. Anyone could come in, no questions asked. They just had to abide by certain rules: no hard drugs, no racism, no homophobia, and no violence. We wanted to emphasize equality — it was a reaction to the closed, materialistic, competitive, dog-eat-dog society we live in.'

The house originally was part of the green property owner's attempt to create a network of sustainable, affordable housing. When his project floundered, the residence was slowly taken over by his tenants, a group of people who one-upped his radicalism. Both sides claimed to be avowed anticapitalists, but their strategies were at odds; his was to produce an alternative to the local housing market by creating a nonprofit that would help tenants own their homes as a collective. Theirs was to make space for themselves in a rent-based housing market by seizing property from investors and absentee landlords.

The owner eventually went bankrupt — drowned in the early stages of the current deflating housing market — and the property fell into the hands of a small-time real estate investor, despite the tenants' attempts to buy it themselves. The tenants refused to leave, transforming themselves into squatters, and fought it out with the buyer in court for three years. As the court case bogged down, housing values plummeted, making the landlord's investment lose value by the day.

On Feb. 28, when one of many hearings was set to take place, the squatters showed up in court but the landlord hadn't filed the paperwork needed to move the conflict closer to a resolution. The following night, in the early hours of March 1, someone lit three fires in the empty upper apartment, setting the house ablaze as people slept inside.

For years the house has been known as 'Hellarity,' although its original owner never called it that."
-- Shane Bauer, making a connection pretty clear - between the bad ideas that bind Paris and "The Paris Of The West" (AKA San Francisco) - in a piece for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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