Translocal action research to Stop the Sweeps
Keywords: homelessness, abolition, Business Improvement Districts, privatization, public space
This Update reports on ongoing action research spearheaded by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). WRAP is a coalition of homeless-led organizations based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Berkeley, and Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas; and New York, New York. Created in 2005, WRAP is leading a national campaign to Stop the Sweeps—evictions—of unhoused people. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are a driving force behind sweeps. As publicly funded zones authorized by city governments, BIDs facilitate extra fee assessments levied on property owners to fund services—especially policing and security services—above and beyond those already publicly provided in the zone. BIDs first emerged in the US in the 1980s, as a model intended for business owners to leverage public tax rolls for funding to control growing homeless populations in downtown commercial areas. Today, there are more than 1,200 BIDs in US cities, spanning a few to a few hundred blocks each. BIDs have steadily transferred control over massive amounts of public space to cities’ largest property owners. WRAP and its core member groups are undertaking action research to understand the inner-workings of BIDs—in order to challenge their practices and, ultimately, abolish this model of publicly-funded privatized policing. Taking a “trans-local” approach, small researcher-organizer teams are working in several cities to investigate local BIDs and connect across jurisdictions. An understanding of BIDs across cities is informing WRAP’s multi-city House Keys Not Sweeps campaign.