Exiles in Eden: a human approach to the housing crisis

Posted on February 15, 2011


We’ve all heard about the housing crisis for years now (at least since 2007), but what we seldom hear about is the individuals and the family units that are impacted by the foreclosures daily.

That is the subject of Paul Reyes’ book, Exiles in Eden, and of the talk he gave at Goucher College last Tuesday. Reyes spoke about the process of writing his book, and about the fascinating, unseen human component of the housing crisis.

Perhaps the most thrilling portion of his speech dealt with the character Max Ramon, who works with Take Back the Land—an organization strongly affiliated with the anti-eviction movement. Take Back The Land is subversion in action, as it advocates for squatters rights.

When we think about squatters, typically we envision crazy, bearded men with a mean disposition and alcohol problem. But Reyes disposed of this myth, replacing the squatter image with the families who have been forced to occupy space illegally due to foreclosure and desperation. Take Back The Land aids these families in reclaiming their stolen houses.

What Reyes and Take Back The Land both point to is the extreme lack of accountability on the part of the banks in the housing crisis. While shelter is a basic human necessity, capital is the thing that is most prized, and to gain it, banks may treat citizens in any manner they please. There are few laws to keep families safe and banks from abusing their power. Reyes noted that even after a family has been evicted, the bank might still hold them fiscally responsible for damage the home accrues, meaning that as the house is looted and destroyed by individuals in equally desperate situations, the family is still plunging further into debt.

Reyes book is an important project, because it unmasks the anti-human nature of this crisis and sheds light of the culpability of both the banks that coldly put families on the streets and the government that passively allows this to occur.