In the Time of Trump: Housing, Whiteness, and Abolition


by Manissa M. Maharawal and Erin McElroy (The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project)


Upon the US electoral victory of real estate mogul Donald Trump, we at the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP)–a data visualization, data analysis, and storytelling collective that documents the dispossession and resistance of San Francisco Bay Area residents within contemporary landscapes of gentrification–have been newly theorizing relationships of power, property, race, and displacement.[1] In this piece we think through what it means that a New York City real estate mogul now is President of the United States.

In 1950, Woodie Guthrie wrote a song about Fred, Trump’s landlord father, calling him out for racist housing policies. Fred Trump, who had established million-dollar tax-sheltered trusts for each of his children and grandchildren, and who fed Donald hundreds of thousands a year, also left our current president $40 million of his $250 million real estate venture upon his death–a literal passing down of white inheritance through private property (Stein, 2016). Not only has this inheritance fueled Donald’s own real estate industry, but it has financed a campaign that capitalizes upon historic racism, while speculating upon racist futures. To put it simply the President, known for his luxury developments, golf courses, and exploitative housing policies, has made and inherited the capital that financed his campaign through systems that privilege private property and with it, whiteness.


Today, our current president, now sitting in a White House built by slaves, is amassing an army around him determined to maintain the whiteness of private property. As of now, Trump has appointed a Chief Strategist who wishes that only property owners could vote, a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary who overtly opposes fair housing law, a Secretary of Treasury popularly known as the “foreclosure king,” and an official senior advisor known for eviction and harassment of New York City tenants. Of course he also supports mass deportations–another form of racialized eviction.


How do we think about the ascendancy of Trump’s reign, along with his new appointees through a lens critical of racialized and colonial US histories of private property? How might this moment call for an abolitionist rather than simply reformist perspective on private property? Focused on the geographic scope of the San Francisco Bay Area and the analysis produced through the AEMP–an activist data visualization and narrative project that we both work on–this piece theorizes why an abolitionist approach to private property is requisite in contextualizing data and in fueling intersectional movement building. How are both liberal and libertarian policy bandages in the context of Bay Area gentrification insufficient in addressing the underlying roots of racialized forms of displacement? How do relying on such systems of redressal actually foment the conditions for white nationalism and neo-fascism to grow and take root? Written as an exploratory intervention conversant with national trends, this piece presents a series of relationships between luxury development, public housing, Bay Area gentrification, liberalism, and racialized dispossession to advocate for an abolitionist stance on private property.


  1. White Supremacist Political Grammars


First and foremost we need to point out that Trump is not an anomaly. Instead he embodies, as Junot Diaz said, “a tendency in U.S. politics that has always been with us: a tendency that is pugnaciously nativist, racist, xenophobic, reactionary and White supremacist” (Rao, 2016). This is a tendency that has always had power in the US political sphere and indeed has been a core part of the neoliberal agenda that has characterized the Democratic administrations of both Clinton and Obama administration. In this sense Trump’s white supremacist stances represent a continuation and deepening of trends that groups like the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project have already been fighting against–trends that include increased forms of racialized displacement, police violence against communities of color, and neoliberal urban policies that criminalize the poor. Thus in this piece, we suggest that the very fact that Trump and his family have acquired capital through real estate investments is not an exception but is in fact integral to understanding the ideology that connects private property, white nationalism and violent social policies together.


We begin by thinking about Ben Carson, who Trump appointed to be the director of HUD. HUD is the agency in charge of federal public housing and rental assistance programs that serve millions of low income families throughout the country. Besides from having no prior housing policy experience, Carson has criticized Section 8, part of the Housing Act of 1937 authorizing the payment of rental housing assistance to landlords on behalf of low-income households. As Carson argued, “This is what you see in communist countries, where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don’t agree with them, all they have to do is pull the noose” (cited in Resnick, 2016). Similarly in a Washington Post Op-Ed, he called Obama’s new housing laws, aimed at addressing the persistent issue of housing segregation in the United States, a “failed” experiment in “socialism” (cited in Carson, 2015).


It is not yet clear what impact Carson’s equating of anti-segregation and poverty subsidization policies with specters of socialism will have, but he is likely to ask Congress to make deep cuts in public housing (Goldenberg & Cheney, 2016). After all, not even the Clinton and Obama presidencies were able to restore HUD to its pre-Reagan funding. Upon asking a long-time housing organizer in New York City about how housing groups in the city were feeling about the appointment of Carson as the HUD Secretary he replied: “We are scared. He…doesn’t believe in fair housing laws. But we are much more afraid of what Paul Ryan can now do legislatively, especially to Section 8.”


The gutting of Section 8 for the whims of the free market has long aligned with the capitalist dream of privatizing public space and resources. For instance, the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, well respected by Trump, has for years proposed cutting HUD completely while time-limiting Section 8 vouchers (Gray, Michel, & Sargent, 2015). Similar to other neoliberal policies such as Bill Clinton’s “workfare” program that mandated labor for welfare benefits, Paul Ryan, the current Republican speaker of the house, wants to impose labor requirements for Federal Housing Assistance (FHA), a well-worn trope that equates poverty with laziness.


As AEMP maps and analyses reveal, there has already been a massive loss of Section 8 housing in the Bay Area. In a 2016 report released detailing displacement and resistance in Alameda County, we found a massive loss in Section 8 housing between 2010 and 2015, in cities from Oakland to Alameda to Fremont (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 2016a). Working with data obtained and analyzed by Matthew Palm and Deb Neimeier of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation at University of California, Davis, units were matched with their respective HUD-defined Fair Market Rents to identify if someone with a voucher could afford to access (rent) them. This usability was then averaged by census tract block group to calculate voucher accessibility by neighborhood. As was found, because the voucher amounts are not competitive with rents that landlords can get from non-voucher holders, once a neighborhood begins to experience investment, landlords stop accepting Section 8, thus forcing voucher holders to move to under-resourced sections of the city (Figure 1). In Oakland, accompanying this loss of Section 8 housing was a substantial 4% loss of its Black population, along with an unprecedented number of unlawful detainer evictions (17,317 during this 2010-2015 timeframe). Further, as we found in Oakland, wealth itself is clearly divided, with white households making $75,065/year, and Black households $35,987. As such, if contexts of racialized dispossession and correlative loss of Section 8 housing were on the rise pre-Trump, it is hard to fathom what might transpire with Trump’s election. Yet we would be remiss to imagine that the previous administration was not also of a neoliberal ethos as evidenced by the growing loss of affordable housing, locally and nationally.

Figure 1. Loss of Black population and Section 8 housing in Oakland over the last five years, by the AEMP, 2016. (Retrieved from AEMP)


With loss of Section 8 housing being clearly a racialized phenomenon, and with emergent discourses blaming poor people for their poverty, it should be little surprise that Trump spews overburdened narratives of the perils of the “inner city.” As he described in 2016, the “inner cities of our country . . . are a disaster education-wise, job-wise, safety-wise, in every way possible” (cited in Baer, 2016). As anyone immersed in the urban knows, the term “inner city” itself is outmoded, not to mention imprecise and inaccurate. The descriptive swelled in the 1960s and ‘70s with contexts of white flight and the pathologization of urban anti-capitalist organizing by people of color (POC), and then dramatically decreased.


As such, Trump’s vernacular utilization indexes a white nostalgia predicated upon racialized enmity structuration. As Drake Baer argues, “In addition to drumming up his trademark nostalgia, this allows Trump to define the residents of the inner city as the other, clearing the way for ‘law and order’ and ‘tough’ policing to be the best policies to reduce crime” (2016). By mobilizing the language of “inner city,” Trump not only advocates for structures of racialized surveillance via “broken window theory, but further, he ignores the histories of segregation, redlining, and white flight constituting its grammatical origins. By broken window theory, we refer to a method of policing in which “quality of life infractions” are issued to maintain “urban order,” and in which it is presumed that poverty and social disorganization result from crime (rather than the inverse) (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). This logic has been used to legitimate initiatives such as the war on drugs and zero-tolerance policing, as well as a massive expansion of the carceral state (Vitale 2014; Gilmore 2007). As such, it has become a mechanism through which Black and brown communities are increasingly criminalized, their everyday lives policed and regulated.


But Trump doesn’t stop with his reliance on “inner city” as racially coded way of saying Black and thereby mobilizing racist policing. In other speeches, he has described urban life as hellish, for instance arguing, “African-Americans are living in hell in the inner cities. They are living — they are living in hell. You walk to the store for a loaf of bread you get shot.” Such discursive tropes have almost always served to set the groundwork for gentrification as a racialized process of dispossession (Camp & Heatherton, 2016; Maharawal, forthcoming). Trump helped to push this process along in New York City in 1989 when a young white women was raped and left for dead while jogging through upper Central Park one night. The notorious “Central Park Five” case saw five young men of color rounded up, forced into confessions, and jailed for her rape, although evidence was thin. Since then the men have all been exonerated and paid a settlement for wrongful imprisonment. Yet the case amounted to a modern day witch hunt in New York City, one in which Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News calling for the death penalty to be used against the men, urging the city to “BRING BACK OUR POLICE!,” a narrative that Rudolph Guiliani then used in his bid for New York City mayorship. Perhaps it is little surprise that Guiliani, who worked closely with Trump throughout his campaign, went as far to recently describe Black Lives Matter activists as “terrorists,” another discursive trope undergirding US white supremacy.


These political grammars unearth a particular confluence of support for racialized policing along with police support of Trump. After all, he was endorsed by the national Fraternal Order of Police. These discourses also reveal his administration’s pro-real estate interests, anti-affordable housing and Section 8 positions, and white supremacist ideology–the latter of which fans the flames of a deep history of US racism, manifesting as increased hate crimes and neo-Nazism. Of course this tenor is far from new, and as Robin D. G. Kelley accurately describes, the whiteness constitutive of it has long been “a foundational myth for the birth and consolidation of capitalism” (2016). Instead of Trump’s victory pointing to the dawn of a new Trump-ocalpytic era in which white relationships to property and policing reign supreme, rather it was, as Kelley says, “among other things, a referendum on whether the United States will be a straight, white nation reminiscent of the mythic ‘old days’ when armed white men ruled, owned their castle, boasted of unvanquished military power, and everyone else knew their place.” As we argue, place has everything to do with this referendum, as does displacement. Therefore, racism manifesting under the Trump administration calls for anti-displacement analytics, which we proceed to do, making the Bay Area as our case study.


  1. Mapping White Supremacy and Bay Area Gentrification


How do we think Trump’s ascendency through a lens critical of private property in the United States? What do relationships between whiteness and property look like in the San Francisco Bay Area? Following Kelley’s cue to think of Trump’s electoral success as a referendum on the maintenance of white human geographies, we suggest that one cannot speculate upon this country’s future without paying critical attention to the past, and to the whiteness of private property. And this, we argue, necessitates a decolonial and antiracist approach to spatiality. As Sam Stein argues, “Trump’s fortune is triply stolen by wage theft from the workers who build and maintain his projects; tax theft from the state that enables him; and land theft from the common spaces he encloses. While he extolls the benefits of private enterprise, Trump really got rich off public resources” (2016). In what follows, we highlight several of our maps to show how historical relationships to whiteness and property are connected to racialized dispossessive conditions in the Bay Area present, ones that will only continue to grow under Trump’s administration.


In 2015, in alliance with over 100 tenants facing eviction by the City of San Francisco on Yerba Buena Island (YBI), the small island anchoring the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco and Oakland, the AEMP offered to create a timeline to story the complex history of the impending eviction. In essence, the City had decided to evict the 40 households from what had been public land to create 285 units of luxury housing to built by the notorious Lennar Corporation. However as we began comprising our timeline’s chronology of YBI dispossession, we realized that to tell the real history of privatization on the island, we needed to start our narrative arc back in 1775, when the island was first colonized by Spain, decimating the social worlds of the Muwekma Ohlone who had previously been dwelling upon its land. In doing so we connected contemporary urban land grabs to a history of settler colonialism, putting forth a decolonial approach to private property (Figure 2).


Figure 2, A brief history of displacement on Yerba Buena Island, AEMP, 2015. Retrieved from AEMP


Based upon this decolonial cartographic methodology, we argue that Lockean logics of enclosure, ownership, and freedom are constitutive of neo/liberalism, and only decolonial approaches to space enable their deconstruction. In fact, for Locke, property itself was “prepolitical,” in that its constitution was requisite to state formation (Blomley, 2005, p. 125). As such, ontologies of the property-owning subject informed colonial projects and the impositions of state regimes. A decolonial approach undoes such ownership logics, invoking decolonial spaces, counterpublics, and in Audra Simpson’s words, “cartographies of refusal” (2014, p. 33). By understanding both private property and the state formation as colonially imposed constructs, it becomes clear that the anti-immigrant stances taken by Trump (but also by previous regimes), are based on fictive borders and notions of sovereignty. Here Muslim registries, enhanced deportation policies, and a southern border wall fortification are real and lethal threats that are predicated upon colonial and Lockean figments.


But to think the looming horrific immigration policies that Trump imposes through an anti-displacement analytic, it is important to remember that already, immigrant communities are disproportionately targeted by another form of forced ejection: eviction. As the AEMP found through collaborative research with tenant organizations in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, Black and Latinx renter households have been evicted at rates far higher than white ones (Figure 3). Work conducted in San Mateo in 2015, for instance, found that Latinx residents comprise 25% of the county’s population, but 49 percent of its evictees, 34 percent of which speak Spanish as their primary language (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, San Mateo Legal Aid, & Community Services in East Palo Alto, 2016). As the housing organization Causa Justa has reported, there have been numerous accounts of non-English speaking tenants being threatened by landlords who make false eviction threats in English. Particularly vulnerable are those who are undocumented, as they are often harassed and unlawfully evicted by landlords who threaten to call Immigration Enforcement and Customs on them (Wong, 2014). There have been multiple cases in San Francisco’s Mission District, for instance, in which landlords bolt tenants’ doors shut and threaten to evict them unless they bring valid identification. This dirty tactic is used as a speculative real estate tool, in which post-eviction rental properties are converted into lucrative ownership units, amassing capital for speculator intermediaries. Such racialized technologies of eviction illuminate the dominance of white property ownership as it preys upon Latinx residents, people who Trump has called “criminals” and “rapists,” and who he has vied to “send back,” to south of the border.

Figure 3, San Mateo County demographics of displacement 2014-2015, AEMP et al., 2017. Retrieved from AEMP.


The San Mateo eviction data reveals another important analytic to think through in correlation with Trump’s impending presidency and processes of gentrification: gender. As we found, 63 percent of residents in our dataset indicated coming from a female-headed household, verifying theses that evictions are, in addition to being racialized, gendered. This is important to think through as we begin the dawn of a sexually abusive and heteropatriarchal presidency, who, along with valorizing private property and its constitutive histories of whiteness, also seems to view women as property, as exemplified by his comment that he would like to “grab them by the pussy.”


In addition to eviction data pointing to a massive disparity in evictions of Latinx residents, so too has the data indicated a dramatic discrepancy amongst Black tenants. For instance, in San Francisco in 2015, we found Black clientele seen by the Eviction Defense Collaborative to be over 300 percent overrepresented (18.5 percent) compared to the city’s population (5.5 percent) (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project & Eviction Defense Collaborative, 2016). Meanwhile, white clientele were inversely underrepresented (17 percent) comparatively (41 percent). But it is not only evictions that are racialized as anti-Black; as studies have found, landlords have long discriminated against Black tenants (Hanson & Hawley, 2011; Feagan, 1999). Similarly, when it comes to homeownership, Black buyers are disfavored (Oh & Yinger, 2015). And this trend is far from new. As George Lipsitz contextualizes, not only are most Black residents not amongst the 46 million Americans today whose wealth is tethered to the Homestead Act of 1863 (because all of that land was allocated to white people and specifically denied to Black people), but further, Black residents “cannot include themselves among the major beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars of wealth accumulated through the appreciation of housing assets secured by federally insured loans between 1932 and 1962 because 98 percent of FHA loans made during that era went to whites via the openly racist categories utilized in the agency’s official manuals for appraisers” (2006, p. 107).


By these latter discriminatory loans, Lipsitz is referring to post-New Deal 1930s-era federal practice of delineating city areas by their return on investment, often resulting in banks refusing loans and mortgages to residents of “at-risk” neighborhoods. These pathologized spaces were mapped by the the government-sponsored Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), which mapped 239 cities, grading neighborhoods based on racial and economic constitution. Due to 1930s-era racism, white neighborhoods were given higher grades than POC ones. Once these maps were created, the FHA, the organization which took over HOLC, used the maps in order to determine who could apply for and receive mortgages or loans. As loans and investments were funneled into the higher grade areas, a wealth disparity grew between neighborhoods, one that continues to impact lending and mortgage practices. For instance, throughout California, twice as many Latinx and Black homeowners reported prepayment penalty provisions on loans as white homeowners (Lipsitz, 2006, p. 109). These became the predatory loans used to decimate neighborhoods throughout the foreclosure crisis. Thus as research by Wyly et al. well evidence, the foreclosure crisis has installed new racial meanings in the US (2012). Perhaps it should be little surprise then that just one hour after Trump was signed in as president, Carson indefinitely suspended a forthcoming rate cut for FHA-backed loan mortgage insurance, which had been popular amongst first-time home buyers and people with poor credit, and which would have saved California FHA-backed borrowers roughly $860/year (Khouri, 2017).


Figure 4, Alameda County foreclosures, 2006-2016, and 1939 Redlining map, AEMP , 2016. Retrieved from AEMP.


In 2016, the AEMP created a new set of comparative maps, studying correlations between 1939 redlining zones, foreclosure instances, and race in San Francisco and the East Bay (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 2016b, 2016c). As we found, areas given “D” or red grades during the 1930s have experienced a disproportionate number of foreclosures in both regions (Figure 4). Further, these “red” areas have higher Black populations than other areas, indexing contemporary specters of New Deal segregation. Further, many of these evictions have been carried out by Wall Street investment companies (Figure 5), such as Waypoint, imparting what Lipsitz describes as a “white spatial imaginary” (2008). With Wall Street financier and foreclosure profiteer Steve Mnuchin, known as the “foreclosure king” for targeting elderly homeowners in California, now serving as Secretary of Treasury, this white spatial imaginary looms ominously.

Figure 5, Wall Street Landlords, California, AEMP, 2015. Retrieved from AEMP.


It is not only foreclosure “kings” amassing property by dispossessing tenants in redlined spaces. As we have found, eviction rates and rental prices are growing rapidly within them too, often due to real estate speculative strategies. Many of the landlords behind mass displacement are serial evictors, such William Rosetti, having issued as many as 4000 eviction notices since 2008, and landlords like Neill Sullivan and his REO Homes (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 2016), notorious for displacing Black families to create housing for young, white residents (Figure 6). Currently, he is attempting to evict the Black youth organizing space of Qilombo in West Oakland, turning an important hub of resistance into a storage unit.

Figure 6, Evictions and Properties of Neill Sullivan, Oakland, AEMP, 2016. Retrieved from AEMP.


This sort of mass ownership and eviction practice is clearly supported by Trump, who recently tapped his son-in-law and fellow landlord Jared Kushner as his official senior advisor. Kushner, who owns multiple buildings in New York City and who is infamous for what abused tenants describe as “construction as harassment” policies, runs his Westminster Management investment company by offering tenants buy-outs, and then converting their former units into luxury ones. Over the last five years, he’s spent over $400 million on 50 New York City properties, primarily in the East Village. The Cooper Square Committee and Fourth Arts Block, together organizing tenants in several of Kushner’s East Village properties, issued a statement saying that he “has converted scores of affordable rent-regulated apartments into luxury housing that rents for $3,000–$5,000 per month,” and that he has “faced allegations of harassment and lack of essential services” (cited in Wishnia, 2017). Steven Wishnia explains that Kushner’s typical business model could be described as “apex scavenger,” working to empty “rent-stabilized tenants through trumped-up eviction attempts, threats, and construction-as-harassment, and then flipping the buildings to new owners.” These sorts of trumped-up eviction attempts and displacement-by-harassment models have been alive and well in the Bay Area, and now we can only expect them to balloon with Trump being advised by his landlord senior advisor.


The Bay Area foreclosure and eviction crisis, which decimated and continues to deteriorate urban spaces, also has destroyed many surrounding suburban areas which have become increasingly POC with contemporary conditions of exurbanization (Schafran 2013, 678). For instance, a 2007 study in Contra Costa county revealed that high foreclosure tracts contained more than 20 percent African American and Latinx residents than low-rate tracts (Perkins, 2008). In the Bay Area, one of the main contemporary causes for racialized exurbanization is tech venture capital flowing into urban areas and Silicon Valley vis-à-vis the Dot Com Boom and now the “Tech Boom 2.0.” In the 1990s, this capital incited the development of high-end lofts, and then in the 2000s, towers. Now, in the 2010s, as our research has shown, areas proximate to high tech infrastructure is most valorized by the real estate industry, and thus has the highest prices and eviction rates (McElroy, 2016). The unaffordability of urban cores has led to increased development in outer-fringe areas, which resultantly have become increasingly POC. After all, as hiring statistics have revealed, high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley–jobs that many newcomers to San Francisco and Oakland reverse-commute to–disproportionately hire young, white men. And increasingly, the tech industry itself is becoming pro-Trump, led by Peter Thiel, Facebook investor and Paypal co-founder, now part of Trump’s transition team and considering bid for California governor (Isenstadt, 2017). Even Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, has entered Trump’s advisory council, leading to protesters barricading Uber’s San Francisco headquarters on Trump’s January 20th inauguration. Protesters also blocked the Silicon Valley bound Caltrain from San Francisco, pointing to the role that Silicon Valley has played in driving up gentrification and the criminalization of homelessness in the Bay Area holding signs that read: “Uber Collaborates. We Resist,” “Resist the War on the Poor,” “Harm Any, Face the Many #Ungovernable.”


White predominance is not unique to tech, but now that tech is the dominant local and global industry, its statistics are significant. As Black households typically earn 59 cents for every white household earned dollar, and as white families come with much more inherited wealth than Black families ($33,500 versus $3,000), Lipsitz calculates that “Whites who out-earn blacks by a 5:3 ratio out-own blacks by a 10:1 ratio” and that “homeownership produces about $60,000 more wealth for whites than it does for blacks” (2006, p. 108), a figure that resonates with our map of Bay Area household income discrepancy between Black and white residents (Figure 7). For instance, in Oakland, the average white household makes $75,065 annually, whereas the average Black household only brings in $35,987. These figures make clear that many of the cuts that the Trump administration plans to enact, for instance upon Obamacare, will disproportionately impact not only poor residents without private insurance, but also, intersectionally, Black residents. Interestingly, most Trump supporters where white men and women averaging $72,000/year (Kelley, 2016), disproving the liberal myth that it was the working poor that voted for Trump. Instead those who voted for him are those who aspire to be Trump-like: that is white and wealthy. And increasingly, the tech industry and the venture capital upon which it stands aligns itself with Trump’s capitalist interests.

Figure 7, Median income by race, AEMP, 2017. Retrieved from AEMP.


III. Abolition


In September 2016, while campaigning, Trump proposed a nationwide expansion of stop and frisk policing—policing based upon the idea that police officers can and should stop people and “frisk” them if they have reasonable suspicion that they can or will carry out a crime (Diamond & Wright, 2016). This sort of pre-emptive policing recently faced various constitutional challenges in New York City, and has its origins in the doctrine of broken windows policing mentioned earlier.


In New York City, as well as in Bay Area spaces, these racialized policing measures can be read as part of a security regime that has been built to protect and facilitate urban redevelopment and gentrification. The relationship between police regimes and urban redevelopment is one in which processes such as homeless removal, the privatizing of public spaces and the expansion of other practices that serve to police the poor, redraws the social and political geographies of urban places (Mitchell & Staeheli, 2006; Davis, 2006; Camp, 2012; Sorkin, 1992; Low, 2006). This strategy of capitalist development is one in which securitization attempts to solve what are social and political crises (Camp 2012; Gilmore 2007).


We can then understand policing, the expansion of the carceral state and gentrification and displacement as co-constituted processes (Maharawal, forthcoming.) In 2017, the AEMP created a new map looking at the connections between policing, gentrification and race in San Francisco (Figure 8). As we found, the Black neighborhoods of Bayview Hunters Point and the Tenderloin are disproportionately policed, with the “quality of life infractions” such as “Danger of Leading an Immoral Life,” graffiti, and “suspicious behavior,” disproportionately issued in these neighborhoods.

Figure 8, Policing, race, and gentrification, AEMP 2017. Retrieved from AEMP.


The prison abolition movement has argued that the only answer to the prison-industrial complex, that has at its foundation the carceral state, is abolition. Here abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal (Critical Resistance, N.D.). In fighting for abolition–rather than prison reform–a radical vision of society is articulated, one in which the underlying social and economic causes of harm are addressed. As the Critical Resistance (N.D.) website states:


An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives.


How can we in the housing movement learn from this demand for abolition rather than reform? If we agree that racial justice and economic justice are bound up in each other, and that the history of private property in the United States is one of dispossession, colonialism and structural racism, if we understand the political moment in the United States as one in which a racist landlord has just taken power and empowered others like him, then we at the AEMP say that it is time for the housing movement to move beyond reformist argument and demand the abolition of private property.


Here we take inspiration from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who writes, “The struggle against group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death is waged in every milieu—environmental degradation, public-goods withdrawal, attacks on wages and unions, divide-and-conquer tactics among precarious workers, war, etc.” (2015). To this list of struggles against “group-differentiated vulnerability,” we add the lack of, and people’s dispossession from, places to dwell.


Our demand for private property abolition is a demand beyond reform; it is a demand that recognizes that the reform we have seen (ranging from the allocation of 20% affordable housing allowances in market rate buildings to the funding prioritization of affordable housing developers rather than community land trusts), has always ended up reproducing what we recognize as a racist and classist system for housing.


Our demand for the abolition of private property is a demand for public housing, collectively owned housing, eviction moratoriums, and land trusts. It is a demand that breaks down the exploitative relationship between landlord and tenant. It is a demand for our cities to be sanctuary cities. It is a demand that connects the rise of proto-fascist and white supremacist ideologies to the fundamental relationship between people and land.


In the age of Trump we think our movements need to be louder, think bigger and demand more. This is not the time for reformist measures but the time to seize the clarity and unifying vision that the election of Trump has laid bare. It is time to dream big and fight hard.



[This essay will be published in a forthcoming edited book: Maja Hojer Bruun, Patrick Cockburn, Bjarke Skærlund Risager, & Mikkel Thorup (Eds.) (2017): Contested Property Claims: What Disagreement Tells Us About Ownership.]



About the authors: Manissa Maharawal and Erin McElroy are members of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project—a data visualization, data analysis, and narrative collective documenting the dispossession and resistance of Bay Area residents upon contemporary gentrifying landscapes. Erin is cofounder of the AEMP, and a doctoral candidate in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz. Manissa cofounded the AEMP’s oral history project with Erin; the Narratives of Displacement and Resistance, and is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. (AEMP can be contacted via antievictionmap [at]





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[1] The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) emerged in 2013 in the wake of the Bay Area’s latest wave of accelerated gentrification. Cofounded by McElroy, the project began by producing data visualizations and digital cartographies useful to anti-displacement eviction organizing, focusing on the abuses of real estate speculation, and the material dispossession incited by the Silicon Valley Tech Boom. Then, in 2014, Maharawal and McElroy together cofounded its Narratives of Displacement and Resistance component, collecting and embedding oral histories and video pieces into an interactive cartographic piece. The AEMP has continued to expanded since then, with over 25 active collective members working in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo counties, having now produced over 100 online interactive maps and over 100 narrative pieces, along with several reports, murals, zines, and community events.