Ben Austen in the NYT Magazine:
The Anti-Eviction Campaign always canvassed a neighborhood before acting, J. R. explained to the young parents. He asked if they would support a takeover of either of the empty houses that sandwiched theirs or of any of the abandoned homes on their block. A family that moved in, he said, most likely wouldn’t pay rent or a mortgage, but wasn’t that preferable to a vacant property further deteriorating, becoming a haven for gangbangers or drug users?
“Hell, yeah,” the woman said, without hesitation, from her lawn chair.
“That’s what we need, uh-huh, exactly,” the man added.
Over the last few years, J. R. has been inside more than a hundred abandoned properties, each one a variation on the same theme of despair. He has stumbled upon drugs and whatever paraphernalia people needed to use or make them, along with the gathered sheets and worn-down mattresses of so-called trick houses. He has seen the carcasses of dogs and cats and rats and possums and raccoons. And yet J. R. proves surprisingly upbeat when talking about the efforts of the Anti-Eviction Campaign. At a Y.M.C.A. in Bronzeville, on the South Side, as people crowded into the basement for a screening of “Inside Job” — the 2010 documentary that essentially detailed the depressing back story of their own foreclosure plight — J .R. told them that he had seen the film 19 times and hoped to see it 150 more. It inspired him. “The government failed us. The market failed us. Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago failed us. Our government — the government — doesn’t belong to us. Forget them; they forgot us. We need to solve our problems ourselves.”