Without knowing anything else about him, you might sense that Mr. Hayes is the perfect neighbor! As Mark Naymik says on Cleveland.com, [box type=”shadow”]Mr. Hayes is a model neighbor.
From his home of six years on Cleveland’s West Side, he looks after the elderly lady next door. He shares vegetables from his backyard garden with anyone in need and keeps his two dogs well fed and fenced in.
The 58-year-old puts his trash in a city-supplied garbage can and clears snow so visitors and the mail carrier can get to the front door. He calls the police at the first sign of trouble and pays property taxes.
Mr. Hayes’ life would be unremarkable except for one big thing.
He’s a squatter.[/box]
Mr. Hayes suffers from mental illness, but that has not stopped him from following his dreams! Tired of the “drugs and noise” at boarding houses and cheap apartments Mr. Hayes moved into his small, abandoned home in 2008. Hayes is practicing his own version of “homesteading,” and he hopes that his success will demonstrate how abandoned houses can be used to combat homelessness.
This modern-day pioneer has a modest home consisting of three rooms and a bathroom. He uses the living room for storage, and neatly displays family photos and books in his bookcases. His bedroom contains a desk, bed, and a “hotplate kitchen,” and of course many of his possessions. The back of the house–what would be the kitchen normally–has been converted into a “junk room.” Hayes has two dogs.
The homesteader is unable to set up any utilities, but pays a neighbor for electricity that is delivered through a large extension cord. Hayes previously lived without, but nearly froze during the winter. His home has plumbing, but no water service. He attempted to convince the Cleveland Water Department to turn on his water service but he was turned down. Official Jason wood wrote Hayes in an e-mail, “Unfortunately, unless and until the property owner authorizes you to reside at the property, CWD is unable to provide the services requested.” For now, Hayes collects rainwater and filters it for cooking and drinking.
Wood encouraged Mr. Hayes to seek legal ownership of the house. “One option might be to reach out to the county prosecutor or the county land bank to secure, if possible, authorization (in the form of ownership or as a tenant) to reside at the property,” the e-mail said.
Since moving in, Hayes has fixed a leaky roof and secured the doors and windows to the home–and since 2011, Hayes has been paying property taxes to the tune of $400 per year–a task that the property’s owner, Urban Investments Group Inc. seems to feel beneath it. The company owes tens of thousands in back taxes and penalties on its properties–$27,000 on Mr. Hayes’ home alone!
“I’m not looking for a free ride,” Hayes said when asked why he pays taxes. “I want to show how abandoned properties can be used to solve homelessness.” Hayes stays up-to-date with documentation, and saves receipts.
Cleveland.com’s Naymik asked Hayes what he wants for himself. Hayes responded, “All I ever wanted was a quiet home with a fenced-in yard and a couple of dogs.”
Well, that is something he has for the moment–and he’s already a more responsible taxpayer than Joe the Plumber, too!