Michele Parker, the Tinley Park squatter, has lived in a $400,000 suburban Chicago home with neither lease nor mortgage for two years now. In these tough economic times, she is supporting her three children and a disabled elder the best way she knows how. She’s been to eviction court more than once to defend her occupancy from the investor who bought the foreclosed home last November and now wants her out.
Michele Parker has very good sense. In 2009, Business Week rated Tinley Park the best place in the country to raise a family. The “Village,” as the 50,000 locals call it, has its own utility company, convention center and transportation plan. It is idyllic, not a bad place to become a squatter when the times require it.
Neighbors and online commentators are outraged. How dare she just move into an unoccupied home for free while they dutifully pay their mortgages and taxes? Isn’t she just a scam artist playing the system to get something for nothing?
I don’t know Michele Parker’s story, but I know the context. In the months before she moved into her Tinley Park home, the Chicago metro area had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, 1 of every 300 homes. More than 10 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007. The big banks played the system and crashed the economy, forcing people out of their homes and their jobs and their dreams.
By some estimates, there are more empty homes in the country than there are homeless people. I suspect this mother and caregiver chose to occupy one of those foreclosed homes rather than live with her children and elder on the street. I suspect she has a job (after all, the utilities are on in her home), but one significantly lower paying than what she once had. I suspect she felt it was time for the system to work for her and her family for once, and I’m not mad at her for that.
She told a judge in January that she was leasing the property, but she couldn’t produce the paperwork. If she’s really squatting, the system will catch up to her eventually, but I hope she finds another empty home to occupy. There are lots of people right now who should be following her example. I think Michele Parker is a hero. If you have any doubts about that, ask her kids. Ask the elder she’s caring for. And then ask yourself what you’d do in her place.