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Houses for Free?

Richmond's real estate anarchists launch Squat2Own.com.

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With foreclosures up and housing prices down, they say it's a buyer's market — if only banks were writing home loans the way they were in the heady days of the housing bubble.

But why buy when you can take? That's the pitch by Squat2Own.com, what may be Richmond's first politically satirical real estate Web site, now offering homes for “$0 Down, No Monthly Payments Ever.”

“Our tax money paid for the bank bailouts,” says Mo Karn, a member of the collective anarchist pro-people brain trust behind Squat2Own. “People should get these buildings — they shouldn't sit empty so a bank can try to make a profit.”

The site, with its pleasing clip art of a Realtor and satisfied customer shaking hands in front of a “Sold” sign, provides helpful listings of vacant properties in Richmond, along with tips for “first-time homesteaders” on how to enter and occupy abandoned properties.

Karn has the experience. She and her fellow anarchists made headlines in February when they moved into an abandoned house in the city's North Side, spending thousands of dollars in renovations before city officials booted them out.

The incredibly detailed online satire has a point, Karn says, and it's fairly encapsulated in the site's “because everyone deserves a home” slogan.

“What we're trying to get across with this particular action is that ultimately these properties … should be the property of people, not banks,” she says, “particularly because the banks were just bailed out for billions of dollars by the federal government.”

There's plenty to find funny on the site, but it's not all fun. Also included are disturbing statistics about Richmond's economic plight and its effect on housing and homelessness here.

“We have a high unemployment rate and we have the highest rental vacancy rate of any major U.S. city,” says Karn, whose group timed the launch of the Web site to coincide with its May 13 installation of bridge banners and yard signs in front of vacant city houses.

So far, Karn says, reception to the site has been good: “We've had a couple of e-mails from people who were neighbors of houses where we put up the signs.” Each was positive, asking for help, she says, “because they are stuck living next to these houses.”

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