Miami activist illegally moves people into foreclosed houses
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI — Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. “All tile floor!” he says during a recent showing. “And the living room, wow! It has great blinds.” But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you’ve ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants. He also breaks into the homes he shows. And his clients don’t have a dime for a down payment. Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami’s empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes. “We’re matching homeless people with people-less homes,” he said with a grin. Rameau and a group of likeminded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new “tenants” with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list. “I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau, who said he takes no money from his work with the homeless. “Homeless people across the country are squatting in empty homes. The question is: Is this going to be done out of desperation or with direction?” With the housing market collapsing, squatting in foreclosed homes is believed to be on the rise around the country. But squatters usually move in on their own, at night, when no one is watching. Rarely is the phenomenon as organized as Rameau’s effort to “liberate” foreclosed homes. Florida — especially the Miami area, with its once-booming condo market — is one of the hardest-hit states in the housing crisis, largely because of overbuilding and speculation. In September, Florida had the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate, with one out of every 178 homes in default, according to Realty Trac, an online marketer of foreclosed properties. Only Nevada’s rate was higher. Like other cities, Miami is trying to ease the problem. Officials launched a foreclosureprevention program to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage, with loans of up to $7,500 per household. The city also recently passed an ordinance requiring owners of abandoned homes — whether an individual or bank — to register those properties with the city so police can better monitor them.
Marie Nadine Pierre holds her baby, Nennon, as she looks out the window of the bankforeclosed house where she is squatting in Miami on Wednesday.