A Millennial’s Take on Housing
by Bryer Sousa
In late April a collaboration between the Portland Tenants Union, the USM Socialists – International Socialist Organization Portland Maine and the USM Greens presented a two-tiered conference. It was titled “Green Thinks: Housing is a Human Right!”
I didn’t know what to expect. It had been well established by others, such as the Portland Press Herald, that a culture of enabling mass evictions has seeped into City Hall. I have long maintained that equitable access to adequate housing is essential to the development of one’s own identity. Thus I felt that the conference would resonate with me, but would be more entertaining than earth-shattering.
After months of careful consideration I admit that this conference shook me to the core. It has resulted in a profound sense of obligation. I will stand in solidarity with those who are homeless in Maine.
The conference featured local activists Crystal Cron and Owen Hill. It took place in Masterson Hall on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus. Free and open to the public, “Green Thinks: Housing is a Human Right!” filled the classroom with residents from the Greater Portland area and students from USM.
Crystal Cron, of the Portland Tenants Union, humanized the topic of “gentrification” as well as the housing crisis generally. She shared her personal accounts and struggles. Crystal was born into poverty. She described the plethora of living spaces that she had to oscillate between during her childhood. The threat of homelessness loomed over her as she developed her identity. It was clear that her story serves as an illuminating message. Of course, it captures only one narrative. Compare this to the overwhelming number of impoverished Americans living in or on the verge of homelessness.
After a brief moment of mutual reflection, Socialist organizer Owen Hill attempted to rally the audience to action. By way of synthesizing the humanity expressed by Cron, Owen discussed the vision of a social and economic system that enables us to “fight back.”
Unfortunately, the fight for tenant rights in Portland continues to threaten the classical values of Portlanders. We tend to agree that landlords should not push the lower class out of their neighborhoods.
The struggle for economic justice continues to organize collectives in Portland. The demand for willing and able activists to engage with one another remains essential. Many new initiatives are beginning to appear. These include the Workers Solidarity Alliance and the newly chartered Southern Maine chapter of the Socialist Party USA. These groups long to stand in solidarity with fellow laborers and renters.
We must recognize that adequate housing is a fundamental human right. Gentrification is arguably in violation of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”
Bryer Sousa is currently majoring in mathematics at the University of Southern Maine. Bryer is a journalist and weekly columnist for the student newspaper, The Free Press.