With more than 43,000 vacant homes and one in three families living in poverty, the housing crisis in Detroit is leading select city residents to squat in abandoned homes. According to the Detroit Land Bank Authority, squatters occupy more than 3,000 homes in the city and often go ignored by the local government and neighbors. Plus, with a lack of resources for both property regulation and housing assistance, people feel squatting is a viable option.

An assistant professor at Drexel University, Herbert lived in Detroit for five years researching illegal property use. She recently published two papers on squatting. She focused on survival squatters (people who take refuge in abandoned homes for emergency shelter) and holdover squatters (renters or former owners who stay after foreclosure). In Detroit, squatting is one form of precarious housing on a spectrum that includes street sleeping or doubling up in an apartment, said Herbert.

“There are some squatters who in a sense ‘choose’ squatting because it allows them to buy their kids food,” Herbert said. “A lot of them have jobs, but they’re still so poor they can’t afford rent and to live.”

Shelter facilities haven’t kept up with the changing demographics of the homeless population, said Tasha Gray, executive director of the Housing Action Network of Detroit, which coordinates the different shelter agencies in the city. They tend to have openings for single men but not enough beds for women and families.

Read More