A squatter is a person who occupies an abandoned or unoccupied building. Squatters do not have any title or right to be on the property, nor do they pay rent. In general, squatting has a negative connotation, however, it happens everywhere and is not purely an anarchist’s affair. More often than not, squatting is a necessity.
Squatters are a very diverse group. Besides the commonly known anarchists, families who cannot afford accommodation squat. According to the American author and squatting expert, Robert Neuwirth, there are roughly one billion squatters on the planet.
Despite the great amount of squatters, squatting remains an illegal activity. Squatters evade government control, pay taxes nor rent, and do not hold any lawful title to the land they occupy. The practice thus clashes with conventional views on citizenship and society. This clash is most apparent when squats located in highbrow city neighbourhoods encounter resistance of residents and landlords.
Usually squatters reside in buildings that have been unoccupied for several years. Squatters put these deteriorated buildings back to use and maintain them to a certain level.
Squatting also generates a positive social and cultural vibe. Squatting hotspots such as Cristiania in Copenhagen or Paris’ 59 de Rue Rivoli, organise events that attract ‘non-squatters’ from far and away.
Moreover, squatting is a way for many to battle gentrification. Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and businesses. The process increases property values, at the expense of the poorer residents of the community.
In Paris, the average rent for a small one-bedroom apartment is around €1000 per month. Those who cannot afford the costs move to the banlieues – the city outskirts.
The French government introduced habitation à loyer modéré, a policy that aims to make housing in the city more available to middle- and lower income families.
The reforms, however, are not sufficient. Perhaps the legalisation of squatting could be a solution.