Emma Lee | NewsWorks.org
Jess Meyers, 28, is excited to buy the house where she's been squatting for the past eight years. She has turned to the internet to raise the $7,300 she still needs.
At a Philadelphia Housing Authority auction last week, a squatter placed the winning bid on the home she'd been living in for the past eight years.
Jess Meyers, 28, had raised enough with online crowdfunding to make the down payment of $2,500. Now she's going online again to raise the rest.
A new squat
The story of Jess Meyers' West Philadelphia rowhome begins with a drug addict and the dog he left behind.
"You watch this dog, you get the house," one of Meyers' friends was told by a future neighbor.
That was her introduction to the area near 52nd and Funston — a spot with more than its fair share of Philadelphia's 40,000 vacant properties.
"We were like, 'Let's just go check something out around here, let's see what we can do, if there's something that's fixable, something we could work with,'" said Meyers, who had previously been squatting at an abandoned apartment tower known as Paradise City.
After settling on what she describes as a former crackhouse, the homeless Meyers and her then-boyfriend took up residence and started fixing up the place.
The home improvements won over the admiration of her neighbors, one of whom put this reporter in touch with Meyers.
After a few years, Meyers says it felt like home, becoming, along the way, a free hostel of sorts for "traveling punk hobos" like her.
"When you need a place to stay, my house has been a haven for that," Meyers said. "Sometimes even people that aren't travelers that just need a place to get on their feet. Sometimes it's hard. If you don't have a place to live, how are you going to get a job?"
Meyers says she gets by as a handywoman. But without enough saved up to the buy the building she calls home, she's asking online donors to chip in.
"At the $100-level you get a one-night stay there," she says, with a laugh. "At the $1,000-level you get a weeklong stay and a T-shirt and a patch."
Meyers says she's helping reverse the blight that has overtaken this run-down slice of West Philadelphia. Helping her, she says, is helping hundreds like her.
"[The city] should be letting people who need a home come in and fix these places, instead of leaving them there," Meyers said. "The neighbors don't want them like that."
Her story was enough to nudge a few dozen supporters to pony up online payments. But now the clock is ticking on 60 days to cover the rest of her winning $8,000 bid. With closing costs, she says the total price of going legit on her "new" home will be about $9,800.
Meyers has what she calls a "fairy godmother" in her corner, willing to cover some of what she can't raise and ready to accept repayment in handywork.
She's not allowed to stay at the house until the closing costs are paid, Meyers says. If she can't pay in full, the housing authority will retain ownership.
Nonetheless, Meyers seems confident it will all work out. "I'm going to win. It's my year," she said.