Hey y’all, how’s life?

I know, I know… DPP has not been particularly interesting lately. In fact, we’ve been down right uncommunicative. My apologies… There’s a good reason for that… Actually a bunch of them, all tied to my day job. Let’s just say it’s been a busy semester and blogging sort of fell by the way-side as I tried to get my fingers around some other work. That said…

I read something this morning that I knew my readers would find interesting. Here’s the link to a blogpost at the Law and Society blog (with another link to a PDF to the full article discussed in the post) by a psotdoctoral fellow at Harvard named Mekonnen Firew Ayano. Her work forcuses on land tenure issues in Ethiopia. Yes, I know, most of the readers of this blog want to hear about property politics and disasters in the US. But let me make a pitch to you about why you might be interested in Dr. Ayano’s work.

Sometimes people ask me why I’m so interested in property. I have been since my early twenties. Now that I’m approaching 50, I can say that it’s a life-long preoccupation. It began when I started thinking about what single moms need to support their families, and how important a job with a career ladder was for a good friend of mine in college (a single mom, working on her degree in business in order to support herself and her son in the future). It made sense to me that access to ownership and the ability to build wealth was pretty obviously connected. I already understood that there were a lot of different kinds of property one could own. She was focused on eventually buying a house, but I remember a fairly clear discussion about retirement and investments.

Later, I learned that women who could own land in underdeveloped places (not just outside the US, mind you, but underdeveloped parts of the US) were empowered to some degree, and as a result they suffered less domestic abuse, could participate in the politics and decision making at the community level, and were much more able to ensure that their children were fed. This was especially true compared to women who did not possess some kind of property (or, in some places in the world, had no right to property of any kind). If you go to DPP’s archive and look, you’ll see this was something I blogged about years and years ago at least once, maybe twice. It’s something I’ve been giving some thought to as I have helped with issues in southeast Missouri, and as a result of some of my research there concerning a landowner from the 1930’s named Price Hess. That’s Mrs. Price Hess, who was born with the name “Emma”. But that’s another story for another day.

Even if this all makes sense to you on some level, you may be telling me that you don’t have time to read about Ethiopia. However, I know you’re reading this because you care about the issues we write about here at DPP, and you may even be involved in the politics of property, or property and disaster recovery. Well, here’s the thing: empirical evidence of this relationship is almost always useful in political contexts. It continues to be clearest in comparative perspectives in scholarship, though. For this reason, I’ve kept up with my training in comparative law and politics, at least insofar as property issues matter despite the fact that I have never written about contexts out of the US (with the exception of a brief foray in a dissertation chapter about property in the EU). Evidence that there is a clear link between the ability of individuals in hard political, social, and economic situations to find their way to a better place is clear in much of this work. Conversely, when governments remove property rights from women or minorities, you can also see the pattern of impoverishment, disempowerment, and manipulation by more powerful people that frequently follows. Scholars can’t write the entire story in one article — you have to read many articles and put the pieces together. I happen to think this is an article worth reading if you are interested in these issues. It’s just one piece of a bigger story, but it’s an important piece.

Also, dear readers, I promise to try to make an appearance in your email box a little more often as 2018 winds down and we turn the page to 2019. In the meantime, I hope all of my US readers have a very good Thanksgiving. I am thankful for all of you!

Colorado: Day 2 and Day 3

Yesterday I spent much of the day reading about various facets of the floods, and getting a “lay of the land” here Boulder — something I normally do before I head out to do research, but thanks to the juggling back home had to wait till I got here. With some help, again, from Celeste as well as comments from a few of her colleagues, I am getting all sorts of ideas for blogging about this disaster during recovery. Property issues, as always, remain foremost in my mind, but there are a few things intersecting with property that I’ll be exploring. As I work through these issues, I hope the many people I’m meeting here in Boulder will feel comfortable emailing me ( or contacting me via twitter (@LJH1969) with ideas.

Before continuing, I want to say a special thank you to the group of students who met with me this morning in the Women and Gender Studies department here at CU-Boulder. We had a nice discussion and they gave me plenty of food for thought (which is reflected below). I sincerely hope that if any of them are reading this right now, they will feel comfortable emailing me with ideas or anecdotes as they pop up. And thanks to Celeste Montoya for setting that conversation up for me!

In the meantime, some things I’m exploring:

First, the change in course in the St. Vrain remains a special interest. That it re-routed itself through neighborhoods and that there are questions concerning whether it should be put back on its original course are policy questions that will impact homeowners and other property owners — but I’m also interested in the idea that we think we can control where a river runs. Or should control where a river runs. Along the Mississippi, we’re used to hearing the Corps describe its “river training structures.” It’s also common to hear people anthropomorphize the river in statements such as, “Old Man River will do what he wants.” The point being, it’s hard to control a force of nature. I’m curious to know more about the history of the St. Vrain, whether such a course redirection has happened before (during a flood, perhaps?), and what the natural history as well as the human history of the area can tell us about all of this.

For those of you who read the post from the first day in Colorado, I thought you might find this YouTube video of Longmont during the flood of some interest. If you look carefully, you’ll see some of the same areas I photographed.

Second, this morning the students I met with gave me several ideas. One of their chief concerns, perhaps not surprisingly, has to do with the way landlords are handling the damage to rental properties, price gouging, and the complexities of making FEMA claims among roommates. While many don’t think of renters as property owners, they do in fact have some form of property in their leases and rental agreements. Which means they do have rights.

Of course, this becomes complicated when more than one person is living in a home. Imagine how much more complicated this becomes when you’re parsing disaster damage claims among several young people, all of whom are juggling school and jobs, some of whom may or may not be on the lease as the official renter. Figuring out how to hire a lawyer, finding the money to do so, and then taking the time to deal with the situation is a bit overwhelming.

Imagine, too, what this would be like for someone who is not a student, but is renting, juggling child-raising (possibly as a single parent, or with a spouse who is also having to work) with a job or maybe two, and trying to figure out how to get a landlord to fix flood damage. I want to understand these dynamics a little better, and will be looking into the programs and processes set up to help renters through this process.

There is a series of YouTube Videos made by bouldercoloradogov that might of be of interest to anyone who is concerned with these issues. They are recordings of hearings held with the city council, and include information concerning renters rights, mediation services for landlord/tenant disputes, and other interesting issues. For those of interested in politics and law, they are also full of street-level bureaucracy and the politics of property.

The students and I also discussed some of the issues that arose with the homeless population in the days following the flood and gave me some great ideas about how to pursue questions concerning not only property owners but those who are propertyless. By homeless, here, I mean those who were without homes before the floods. Many of the public spaces where they slept or spent time were badly damaged in the flooding. While there are shelters set up, I would like to know more about what is happening to some of our most vulnerable population.

FEMA fraud as well as other criminal activities have also been mentioned to me more than once in the last couple of days. Taking advantage of the situation or taking advantage of victims of the situation appears to be, as it often is, a feature of the post-disaster context here in Boulder. We also discussed, ever so briefly, FEMA maps and flood insurance — that is going to be a perennial issue here at DPP. For those of you interested in flood plain mapping, here’s the Boulder Flood Plain Map:


While I’m thinking about all of these things, I’m also planning to visit a couple of other communities that were hit hard in the mountains. This is a little complicated given that so many of the roads remain closed. But I’ll see what I can do.