American housing has a dichotomy. Affordable housing has become more difficult to find, adding to homelessness. There are more empty houses than homeless. A simplistic solution is to put the homeless into empty homes, but that ignores rights and responsibilities of owners and occupants.
“But for every American living on the street, there are 13 empty, off-market units.” – Mother Jones
Many of the empty, off-market homes may be vacation homes; but many are also derelict and abandoned. Squatting has been part of human alternatives for a long time. While it is usually illegal, it can also lead to legal occupancy and ownership (adverse possession).
“Passed down from common law, the legal doctrine varies from state to state, but the basic gist is that anyone can legally claim an abandoned property if he or she occupies it and pays its back taxes for a set time and as long as no one else steps forward and proves ownership.” – Mother Jones
Squatters have a reputation of living in squalor, but a new wave of homeless are repairing and renovating the homes they are squatting in.
As the affordable housing crisis continues, it won’t be a surprise that some people without the basic necessity that is a house will resort to accessing the surplus supply – particularly of abandoned homes. Whether society and the legal system fight or accommodate the trend will probably require years of debate.