Commoning Private Property

Ethical action: Reclaiming and expanding commons to share the things that sustain us

Neoliberal economic policies worldwide have caused the privatisation of state owned property and services. Some communities are re-claiming recently privatised resources, while others are overturning centuries of tradition and creating commons by claiming private property.

Citizens in Grenoble, France, demanded an investigation into extreme price increases following the privatisation of their water and sewerage systems. Subsequent prosecution uncovered political corruption and the water and sewage systems were “remunicipalized”. This ensured these resources were managed for the benefit of the citizenry, not for the benefit of private corporations. The film Water Makes Money documents this story.

The Alliance to Develop Power (ADP) formed in Massachusetts when private developers, who had accessed low-interest government loans to build affordable housing, tried to convert the housing into high-rent apartments at the end of the loan. The ADP sourced loans and grants to buy the housing and now each housing development is managed by its own tenant association, transferring what was once privately owned and managed rental housing into “cooperatively controlled, community held assets”.

In the 1980s a group of residents in the Roxbury area of Boston formed the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in efforts to stop the illegal dumping of toxic waste on vacant blocks in the neighbourhood. DSNI successfully petitioned the city for the power of eminent domain to purchase the land. DSNI, now a powerful community organization, with various amenities, has built four hundred high-quality affordable houses on these vacant lots effectively commoning abandoned private land.

The 2003 Land Reform Act in Scotland which repealed Scottish Feudal Law transformed traditionally held private lands into collectively owned private property emphasising managing the resources for community benefit. In Brazil the Landless Workers Movement (or MST) has made use of Article 184 of the Brazilian Constitution which states that “land not serving its social function to produce goods of economic value and provide employment under proper legal safeguards of workers” can be expropriated from landowners and used for agrarian reform. Over 350,000 families have gained livelihoods through settling on land expropriated by the MST.