The role of academia in increased and violent homelessness, gentrification and land theft from Berkeley to NYC
by Tiny Gray-Garcia, POOR Magazine
“Columbia University built the Manhattanville campus and caused the eviction and displacement of hundreds of low-income tenants and will be bringing in more students, which will cause more housing shortages and more displacement,” said Rosie to PoorNewsNetwork.
Rosie is a Columbia University student and member of Columbia Housing Equity Club. She and this formerly houseless poverty skola stood together as we began our Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources UnTour in occupied Lenape Territory June 2 outside the Greco-Roman pillars that marked the front of the infamous Columbia University campus.
“UC Berkeley is building an 11-story student housing building, which is taller than all the student housing they currently have. None of the current houseless residents of People’s Park have been offered homes in the so-called affordable housing part of the project and probably never will.
“The little bit of affordable housing they are including won’t even be accessible to the current houseless residents of People’s Park because of the income requirement,” said June Nelson, a land liberator with Defend People’s Park to PNN-KEXU Po People’s Radio Podcast of June 14.
“The maintenance crew dispatched to People’s Park just today was taking people’s belongings and throwing them away, including a grandmother who I had just bought adult diapers for,” added Aidan Hill, another powerful land liberator and formerly houseless UC Berkeley student who has stood up for and stayed in People’s Park for years and also spoke with us on Po People’s Radio Podcast focused on akkkademik colonization.
From Berkeley to NYC and beyond, the settler violence of private property and the “krapitalist” system (as I call it) un-houses youth, families, grandmothers, aunties, uncles and countless disabled Black, Brown, poor wite and Indigenous people. Eviction, gentriFUKation – rent increases, housing shortages – job loss, underemployment, poLice profiling, poverty, incarceration, mental and physical illness, substance use, domestic violence and more are also triggers.
POOR Magazine has done countless WeSearch projects – poor people-led research for us, by us. Among them is the #JailstoStreets project, connecting the dots of incarceration and profiling of Black and Brown communities to houselessness, the #EvictionisElderandChildAbuse project and more.
The findings were always the same: If you make “one wrong move,” slip-up or any of these krapitalist forces ensnare you, it’s almost impossible to get re-housed, housing secure or, as I call it, “homeful.”
The tiny respite of the eviction moratorium, which didn’t cover most very poor tenants and was summarily ended, leaving over 50,000 people across the U.S. in eviction proceedings.
Not to mention RAD and Hope VI – two government-sponsored gentriFUKation projects that destroyed public housing as we know it and flipped almost all project housing into the benignly titled “mixed income housing,” i.e., no longer available to the poorest people in the U.S.
And, most recently, the terror we all are still collectively surviving, known as the pandemic – the tiny respite of the eviction moratorium, which didn’t cover most very poor tenants and was summarily ended, leaving over 50,000 people across the U.S. in eviction proceedings.
With all of these terrifying realities, in addition to the over-arching violence of krapitalism, isolation, forced migration and generations of colonial terror, Indigenous and Black land theft and wite supremacy, it’s a wonder anyone is housed, and overstandibly why so many of us are now members of the ever-growing UnHoused Nation.
“I barely survived the violence of the encampment sweeps in New York under the new mayor and I am now truly afraid as he has declared war on our homeless bodies,” said Rickie, one of many RoofLess Radio reporters we met with on our Stolen Land UnTour of occupied Lenape territory last week.
Because, like Rickie said, once we are in fact outside, our bodies are now equated with trash and poltricksters like Eric Adams of New York sweep us out in massive and dangerous sweeps.
Akkkademik colonization and the dorm-industrial complex
But, one driver of increased removal and displacement is rarely, if ever, discussed, mentioned or named: Academia, or what i affectionately call, Akkkademia, and the ever hungry dorm-industrial complex.
“This cult of angst and subsequent separating of children from their families and communities enables the other crucial lesson of akkkademia: the lesson of individualism, individuation, selfishness and self-centered actions.
“This produces the perfect capitalist consumer with all the elements of a future gentrifier and Ikea shopper. It produces people who become complicit in age-separatism, ghettoizing their own elders in homes and children in age-separated schools and board and care ‘homes,’” states an excerpt of page 172, chapter 6, from “Poor People-led WeSearch and Education versus Akkkademik Destruction in Poverty Scholarship – Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth.”
I call it the dorm-industrial complex, which is rooted in the “cult of angst,” because these academic institutions, from Berkeley to Philly, from Temple University to San Francisco and LA, continue the land theft of the original colonizers – who, incidentally, many of the buildings on their campuses are named after. They continue the expansion, land theft, removal and violent gentriFUKation under the guise of “student housing,” which is really a cover for a giant pyramid scheme inherent in krapitalism.
I outline these concepts in chapter 6 of the “Poverty Scholarship Textbook,” and I refer to it as akkkademik colonization and one of the important lessons we unpack in People Skool’s DegentriFUKation/Decolonization Workshop.
A recent aspect of the ever-increasing akkkademic colonization is what i am calling akkkademik apartheid. These institutions aren’t building student housing for all students, they are building “luxury student housing,” which means the only students who will be housed in this 21st century model are the children of wealth-hoarders.
The only way that students can live in these places is by agreeing to work in them in exchange for discounted or even free rent.
Which means: This violent gentriFUKation is focused on housing students with resources and often times leaves poor students houseless. Luxury housing for college and university students across the U.S. has become a multibillion-dollar industry for universities, with apartment buildings featuring pools, clubhouses and spin studios.
“I was homeless for many of my years at Berkeley. I could not afford the so-called ‘student housing,’ and there is a severe housing shortage in Berkeley, so there was never anywhere else I could afford to live. Being homeless while in school is so stressful, and I almost didn’t graduate,” said Max C., a graduate of UC Berkeley, who is now a resident of Hayward.
Some students get a housing stipend as part of their financial aid, but it typically covers only the cost of dorms or less expensive off-campus options. And, the only way that students can live in these places is by agreeing to work in them in exchange for discounted or even free rent.
There is at least one class-action lawsuit alleging that this has essentially made them the equivalent of indentured servants to their wealthier classmates.
Kkkolumbia University’s Black removal
Columbia University has an extensive history of evicting Black and poor tenants to make way for their ever expanding “campus.” The fight and resistance of tenants has spanned decades, and one of their warriors was a revolutionary wite woman known as Marie Runyon, who was a resident of the Morningside Heights neighborhood and was evicted by Columbia and, along with other tenants, refused to move, holding out for years in their homes in Morningside Heights.
“My mom and many of the tenants being evicted by Columbia refused to leave, and the court battle with them spanned several years,” said Brian Barth, Mrs. Runyon’s son, who joined us on the UnTour as we stood in front of the Columbia University president’s mansion – another terrifyingly blatant example of the colonial aspect of all these wealth-hoarding, land-stealing institutions.
“They hired a private security firm to literally ‘sweep’ everyone out of the Tenderloin district who are houseless in front of the block UC Hastings has proposed for their luxury student housing,” said a POOR Magazine family member and revolutionary member of KopWatch SF in the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources UnTour of UC Hastings Law School in November of 2020.
People’s Park has always been a space of decolonization
“In the 1950s, UC Berkeley acquired People’s Park through eminent domain. Michael Delacort and other anti-war activists co-founded it to do a free speech rally. People’s Park was a sanctuary garden for the Black Panther Party. The purpose of the park at its core is about survival under capitalism,” said Aidan to Po People’s Radio News Hour.
Aidan continued: “The new chancellor decided to build on People’s Park, and in 2019, they cut down 40 trees. Many people resisted, but UC continued with its plan – until Andrea Henson fought a court case blocking the further displacement of people without offering them accommodations, as this is cruel and unusual punishment.”
This poverty skola, who grew up in homelessness with my mama and was arrested by UC Berkeley police for being houseless in that settler town, eventually doing three months in Santa Rita County Jail for the act of being houseless in this stolen land, have been triggered into extreme depression by the hypokritical ways so-called progressive Berkeley has operated.
“They have my relatives in their basement,” said Corrina Gould, Ohlone and Lisjan leader, prayer warrior and co-founder of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, in POOR Magazine’s Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources UnTour held in May of 2021.
We launched the UnTour of that akkkademik site following the UnTour of UC Hastings, where in both cases we proposed a #LandBack proposal – because UC Berkeley is not only stealing land, trees, housing and tents at People’s Park along with buildings of rent controlled housing such as Walnut Street, in collaboration with Police agencies – they are also, like so many of these institutions, warehousing Indigenous ancestors, which is all connected.
In the end, akkkademik colonization can and should be met, liike all forms of colonial terror, with active decolonization and degentriFUKation. Not more studies and research and talking, removing and sweeping by the very institutions profiting off of our erasure.
“People’s Park is on Ohlone land, and I believe it was created for all the children in the future – the next seven generations. People’s Park was based in notions of radical activism that included the womens movement, gay liberation, free speech and so many more, always anti-fascist, always pro-poor,” concluded Aidan.
Aidan and all of us are standing on the shoulders of so many warriors, like Michael Delacourt, David Nadel, Osha Neuman and Rosebud Abigail Denovo, who broke into the campus home of Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of the University of California, for the liberation of People’s Park.
The collective work of Defend People’s Park and Columbia University Housing Equity Project is essential, and all the so-called woke and conscious professors and students need to join to support and resist along with all the community members and houseless relatives who have stood up and spoken up for generations.
Mama Earth and all of us poor and houseless mamas and families need to be listened to with our own solutions like Homefulness, the Poor People’s Army resisting the academic colonization of Temple University and the DegentriFUKation Zones we launched in East Huchiun (Oakland), so we don’t all end up in the very real violence of the UnHoused Nation.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless, incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness. Reach her at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or @povertyskola on Twitter.