A few days ago, a local anarchists website posted eight handy tips for "how to occupy a vacant house." Tip one: a "smaller residential property in disrepair" has "greater long-term potential" than a commercial one. As if to prove the point is what you might call the tale of two squats.
Yet for more than two weeks now, a group of anarchists loosely aligning themselves with Occupy Seattle has taken over a formerly boarded up duplex in the Central District.
Contrary to reporting in an Associated Press article last week, neighbors have been up in arms about the squat. A Central District News article about the squat has gotten more than 250 comments, many of them angry--making it "the most commented story in CDN history," according to a follow-up piece. Garfield High School complained to police about squatters trying to "hand out pamphlets and recruit members on the high school campus," according to an e-mail principal Ted Howard sent out to parents.
And a half dozen neighbors filed complaints with the city Department of Planning and Development, saying the squatters were piling garbage and junk in the yard and defacing the area with graffiti.
Yet authorities have not, as of yet, forced the squatters to leave. DPD spokesperson Bryan Stevens says the department has spoken with the attorney representing the building's owner, who confirmed that the group was trespassing. Thereupon, it became a matter for police, Stevens says.
Police spokesperson Sean Whitcomb, asked about the different reaction to the two squats, draws a distinction between them. The Capitol Hill one "wasn't so much a squat as an effort to take over a building," he says. But asked to clarify, he says there is a "very fine difference," and seems hard pressed to elaborate. One might note, however, that the the Capitol Hill warehouse sits in a commercial area, the Central District duplex a residential one.
"I'm not going to say action isn't going to be taken," Whitcomb adds. "But I'm not going to announce when that might be."
The Central District squatters aren't doing the Occupy movement any favors in the mean time. Whereas it's easy to work up outrage against the obscenely wealthy 1 percent, it's far less popular to direct venom, as the squatters have done, at run-of-the-mill "gentrifiers." What does that really mean, anyway? Per a commenter to the CD News:
My wife and I live very close by. We are youngish, we are white, and we are generally progressive thinkers. We've worked hard to attain advanced graduate degrees (and we have significant student loan debt to attest to that). We continue to work hard and maintain what we've got, while being smart with our money and putting away what we can. We bought a home in the CD when we moved here from out-of-state three years ago, mostly because it was more affordable, but also because my wife is so close to Swedish Cherry Hill where she works. Our home was built right before we moved here (independent of us) and we are the first owners.
So are we the bad guys? Are we a part of the colonization of the CD? Or maybe we're just young people looking to buy their first Seattle home, who came here with no agenda other than to set down some roots (we have two kids now), avoid a long work commute, and live within our means.
Are we supposed to take our money to Madison Valley because that's where people like us are supposed to go? Wait a minute..
That comment, and others like it, sound like the start of a long overdue conversation about the unexamined stereotypes of gentrification.