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A Possessory Interest: Exceptions to Rights of Possessory Exclusion in Portland’s Houseless Encampments

Authors: Stephen Przybylinski*, Syracuse University
Topics: Legal Geography, Political Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Property, Property Rights, Citizenship, Houseless Encampments, Portland (OR)
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As unsheltered houselessness rises in U.S. west coast cities, urban governments are increasingly permitting houseless encampments to operate on municipal properties. Based on my research in Portland, Oregon where I worked with a handful of self-governed encampments, this paper addresses the inequities built into property allocations for houseless groups. I show in the paper that despite the many benefits self-governed houseless encampments provide for houseless individuals—dignity, security, autonomy, democratic control—these benefits are conditional upon their specific rights to use property. Whereas owners and tenants generally have rights of "possessory exclusion" over propertied-space, Portland's encampments lack such a distinction. The encampments hold possessory rights to use municipal property but do not have exclusive rights. Because of this distinction, Portland's houseless encampment residents unevenly realize citizenship privileges connected to their conditional property rights. I argue therefore that these encampment's property rights, while beneficial to its residents in many ways, simultaneously diminish the benefits that make self-governed houseless communities successful in the first place. The paper with talk through these contradictions, detailing what benefits the encampments hold for their residents, how encampments are limited through the language of rights of property, and how these built-in features of legal property systems affect such vulnerable communities.

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