Illegal (Informal) Property Use in Detroit: Squatters, Scrappers, and More…


My book “Urban Decline and the Rise of Property Informality in Detroit,” is under contract with University of California Press. This book is a qualitative study which uses the lens of informality borrowed from its rich history in scholarship on the global south, to study de jure illegal uses of land, houses and buildings in Detroit, Michigan like squatting, scrapping, gardening and demolition. I conceptualize these practices as informal because they violate laws and regulations but have achieved social legitimacy, as many residents and authorities accept and even promote these practices in their neighborhoods.

This book complicates dominant perceptions of property law violations as deviant or criminal, and demonstrates how they can be beneficial not just fort individuals, but that they can positively shape the urban environment and improve neighborhood conditions. But as city authorities devise new laws and regulations to promote revitalization, the informal practices of predominately poor, black longtime residents are increasingly criminalized while those of newer (whiter) residents are co-opted as part of a new vision for Detroit. The interface of the formal and informal becomes a mechanism for reproducing longstanding inequalities like race and class that hasn’t yet been rigorously examined in the United States.

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Herbert, Claire W. 2018. “Squatting for Survival: Precarious Housing in a Declining U.S . City.Housing Policy Debate 1482: 1–17. doi:10.1080/10511482.2018.1461120.

Herbert, Claire W. 2018. “Like a Good Neighbor, Squatters Are There: Property and Neighborhood Stability in the Context of Urban Decline.City & Community 17: 236–58. doi:10.1111/cico.12275.


“In Brief: Like a Good Neighbor.” Contexts Magazine, Spring 2018 (17:2, 4-7)

“What Detroit Needs Now: More Squatters.” Bloomberg, August 2016.

“Who are you? Squatters can actually help a neighborhood.” Science News, Science Daily, August 2016.


“Squatters May Actually Help Neighborhoods.” Top of the Mind: BYU Radio, September 2016.

“Claire Herbert on the Moral Economy of Squatting.” Against the Grain: KPFA Radio, July 2015