Who are you? Squatters can actually help a neighborhood

August 21, 2016

SEATTLE -- Squatters who illegally occupy vacant homes or buildings are not always contributing to apathy or social disorder, says a new University of Michigan study that will be presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

It can actually be a good situation for a neighborhood to have these individuals move into abandoned homes, lessening the chance of them becoming sites for drug users or burned by arsonists, the study indicates.

In urban communities nationwide, such as Detroit, which are experiencing population decline, homes have been abandoned by owners or left unattended by private investors who often purchase them in bundles of tens, hundreds, or even thousands.

"While attempts to revitalize a city rely on private ownership to induce responsible care for property, that isn't always an option," said study author Claire Herbert, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned a PhD in sociology.

That's where squatters come in.

Herbert, who will be an assistant professor at Drexel University in the fall, interviewed more than 60 people, including squatters, city authorities, and residents between 2013-2015, while also gathering ethnographic data on illegal property use from various sources, such as community meetings and squatted areas across Detroit.

Surprisingly, many of the residents in the study welcome squatters to keep abandoned homes occupied. Squatting, however, was not considered acceptable to residents if the home was still occupied or if the legal owner was maintaining and overseeing the property.

But, when there is minimal police or city oversight to enforce legal owners to maintain their vacant properties, neighboring residents seek solutions, Herbert said. Many forego involving the police or other city authorities to enforce legal ownership, but instead encourage responsible squatters in order to bring about the kind of positive impact that legal ownership is supposed to bring -- improved neighborhood conditions, such as safety, community, and care for physical structures.
About the American Sociological Association

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

The paper, "Like a Good Neighbor, Squatters Are There: Neighborhood Stability After All the Windows Have Been Broken," will be presented on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 2:30 p.m. PDT in Seattle at the American Sociological Association's 111th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study's author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Daniel Fowler, ASA Media Relations Manager, at (202) 527-7885 or pubinfo@asanet.org. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 20-23), ASA Public Information Office staff can be reached in the on-site press office, located in Room 601 of the Washington State Convention Center, at (206) 219-4513 or (914) 450-4557 (cell).

Jared Wadley, Senior Public Relations Representative, University of Michigan News, wrote this press release. For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Wadley at (734) 936-7819 or jwadley@umich.edu. Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Contact: Daniel Fowler, (202) 527-7885, (914) 450-4557 (cell), pubinfo@asanet.org
On-site Press Office (Aug. 20-23): Washington State Convention Center, Room 601, (206) 219-4513

American Sociological Association

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