Jessica Meyers, squatter-turned-homeowner, wins bid for home, and loses donations (updated)

August 20, 2013

UPDATED 8/20/13 at 9 a.m.: Last Friday, NBC Philadelphia reported that Indiegogo reinstated Meyers‘ campaign as it “is indeed in compliance with Indiegogo’s terms of service,” according to a statement issued to the media outlet. According to Meyers, the crowdsourcing site only returned donations made through PayPal to both campaigns, totaling about $1,500, and waived all fees associated with the fundraiser. “I’m happy, but frustrated, it took them 20 days to respond and I do not get all the donations I lost,” she told West Philly Local.

7/29/13: A week ago, Jessica Meyers went from squatter to homeowner.

The 28-year-old Syracuse native landed the winning bid for her makeshift West Philly home at 52nd and Funston Streets during Philadelphia Housing Authority’s July 16 auction. The legally abandoned PHA-owned site was one of 196 properties the housing authority was selling off at First District Plaza, 3801 Market Street, and there was no way she’d let possible ownership slip through the cracks. After all, Meyers has squatted in that house for eight years, and has spent countless time and energy refurbishing it into a livable space shared with friends and traveling punks. 


Meyers claims people who’ve seen the NewsWorks photo of her home have questioned whether she has actually made improvements because of the boarded up windows. Meyers asserts that was the handwork of PHA the day before the auction, and that proper windows are indeed under the boards.

In order to get into the auction, though, Meyers had to throw down $2,500—an entry fee-turn-future down payment loaned to her by friend and semi-employer Amira Dovah. Prior to last Tuesday, Meyers opened an initial Indiegogo campaign, set to close 10 days after the auction, in an effort to raise donations to repay Dovah. She also launched a second Indiegogo fundraiser to cover the remaining costs on the Mill Creek property—$5,500 plus $1,800 in buyer’s fees, and another $1,000 or so in future renovations. (This expense, much like the $2,500, would be covered by Dovah and another friend if Meyers is unable to gather enough cash before the 60-day closing date.)

Together, Meyers raised over $4,000 as of Wednesday night. As of Thursday morning, about three quarters of those donations disappeared.

According to Indiegogo, someone reported Meyers for violating its terms and conditions by using it to acquire real estate, which is prohibited under its General Rules of Use. All credit card donations from both campaigns were refunded to the donors.

“I was so elated. I was like, ‘Wow, people really care and we’re doing really well, it looks like this might actually happen.’ Then Indiegogo messages me with their punch in the face,” Meyers told West Philly Local, a slight sound of defeat cradling her voice.

Without missing a step, Meyers started a new fundraising campaign that same day—this time on GoGetFunding, a considerably smaller, less-funded crowdsourcing site based in London. She’s already drawn $2,245 since launching it Thursday and has 48 days to reach 100 percent funded. “All new funds are from the old funders. It makes me ecstatic,” said Meyers. “I’m hoping everyone else who donated goes and donates again, and hopefully some new ones.”

Technically, though, Meyers wasn’t actually buying real estate with the Indiegogo campaigns. The $2,500 loan she placed on her winning bid secured her homeownership, and she’s already signed the Agreement of Sale for the PHA unit. Instead, the donations from the first campaign, which would have closed and transferred to her account yesterday, was always earmarked for refurbishing the homestead and paying back Dovah.

“She knows everything about me. She knows I’ve been a squatter, she knows…I’m sorry, I’m getting worked up,” Meyers said of the woman she’s worked for for five years and accompanied Meyers at the auction. Her voice cracks on the other end of the phone and, by her own admission, she’s started crying. “She knows my whole situation and she basically became my fairy godmother….I really don’t want to have to call her because she’s already done so much for me.”

Indiegogo also informed Meyers that she must return all PayPal donations—something she says is not currently possible because she’s already transferred those monies into her bank account, and she has yet to hear back from Indiegogo as to how to proceed. Due to the PayPal donations living in a sort of limbo, both campaigns still show contributions—nearly $900 and over $600, respectively. Meyers set the second campaign back to “live” in a panic after seeing it set to draft on Thursday morning—and before knowing the deal—but she doesn’t want anyone donating through it.

As for who actually reported the campaign, Meyers has no idea but “can only imagine.” Since putting her property on Craiglist to invite people to tour the space and having her story in the news, Meyers said she’s received a heap of hate mail (comments on the NBC Philadelphia/NewsWorks piece are less than savory).

“Of course there’s going to be people who don’t understand what I’ve been doing and are going to call me a junkie or say they want to firebomb my house with her in it,” she said, frustration building in her voice. “It could have been any one of those right wing people who are just very angry that I got to live some place, in their eyes, for free for eight years. But it’s just really a lot of work to be there. It’s not like we just kicked back and relaxed.”

When asked to put a value on the work she’s performed to revamp the property, Meyers offered about $6,000. That number, she said, accounts for time, labor and materials acquired through donations, scouting Craigslist, and from houses demoed by friends. Since moving in almost a decade ago, Meyers claimed she’s also help alleviate drug and crime activity on block—a fact she says her neighbors could and have attested to, particularly in the nearly 200 signatures they’ve offered for her 2005 and 2010 petitions asking the PHA and local council members to allow her to own the home. She also has a number of contractor friends contact her recently and offer to donate their services in fixing up the Mill Creek croft.

Before putting her name on the title this week, Meyers’ home was one of the city’s 40,000 vacant or abandoned properties and, according to the squatter-cum-homeowner, also one of over 4,000 PHA “Scattered Sites”—a phrase used to described low and moderate-income public housing units dispersed throughout the city, blended in communities of private renters and homeowners. If true, that means in the eight years Meyers has squatted at the site, PHA officials should have used funds to renovate and rent out the knowingly abandoned space to a “Scattered Site” applicant of low income instead of selling it at auction. And it’s not the first time they’ve sold off supposedly Scattered Site homes—they auctioned 100 individual properties during their first auction in 2011. (West Philly Local did not hear back from PHA at the time of publication.)

“PHA never gave us the opportunity to buy the property, so it’s like I’m going to spend my actual cash money to fix the property and, at this point, they were going to put in an auction and someone can just buy, come in and take away all the work that I’ve done,” said Meyers. “If I don’t own this [house], it’s going to sit there and it’s going to be abandoned. There are other properties on this block that have been owned by PHA, or even other people, and they sit there and they rot away.”

The Origins of Meyers

By her own account, Meyers has had a rough life. Her parents, divorced when she was a baby, fought over custody rights and, at three-years-old, she was kidnapped by her dad. (“It was just a whole manipulative thing with me in the middle of it,” she said.) As for her mom, Meyers claimed she used her own mother’s suicide as “an ill-advantage to her life.”

“I heard when I was like 6-, 7-, 8-years-old tell me, ‘I don’t know how to give a child love. I never got motherly love. My mom killed herself,’ which is not something you say to a 6-, 7-, 8-year-old. Not at all,” she recalled. “I mean, my parents care about me. They’re just not equipped to be there.”

Then, around 14- or 15-years-old, Meyers was thrown out of her father’s house because his girlfriend “didn’t like” her—he always chose her over his daughter, she alleged. So she lived with her best friend for a year until her dad shipped her to her aunt’s Long Island home before he moved to Korea. It didn’t last long with her aunt, either—according to Meyers, her aunt also kicked her out after about a year. That’s when the new homeowner found herself couch surfing until meeting her boyfriend and transplanting to West Philly 10 years ago. She lived in squatter haven, Paradise City, at 48th and Spruce streets for two years before moving to 52nd and Funston.

That relationship ended last summer after Meyers learned about “all these horrible things” and he took off.

“This whole year that just went by has been like a knock down, drag out fight for me. It really has,” she said, again choking up. “Everything happens for reason. I know I deserve this. It’s going to come my way, so I have to keep positive.”

Due to the conditions of the Agreement of Sale, which all auction buyers have to adhere, Meyers is back sleeping on her friend’s couches—but this time, with a future home in sight. Until she pays off the property, the Syracuse native is not allowed to reside in the home–and while she admits to “theoretically” living there illegally “this whole time,” she doesn’t want to create “anymore obstacles” by continuing to stay before the closing date.

In addition to the revamped fundraising campaign, Meyers is organizing a community-based car wash fundraiser, hopefully to be held next Friday. She also plans on launching a website,, this weekend with the help of a friend, and is working a festival in Connecticut to also procure monies to go towards the remaining fees.

“[Being a homeowner] would validate everything I’ve done there,” said Meyers. “Helping me own this house is helping hundreds of other kids and people like me have a home because I’ve shared this place for eight years with countless people.”

Annamarya Scaccia

40 Comments For This Post

  1. brendangrad Says:

    I read this story originally on I was against the idea. Yes, vacant houses are a problem. No, I don’t think the solution will come from allowing a squatter who can’t afford to even buy the place to use a charitable donation to take the deed. In order to fix any real problems with the house she’ll need to go back to kick starter. Can you really trust her to do an adequate job of fixing a place which may have serious structural problems? And weren’t we all recently reminded just how dangerous a structural problem can be???? I think all the city will be getting will be people living in a dangerous house with an open door policy for more dubious homeless punks to crash there. It’s replacing urban blight with urban blight. Are we assuming because someone calls themselves a “handyman” that they are qualified to rehabilitate a dilapidated structure? The contractor who was responsible for 6 people dying in that building collapse also said he knew what he was doing.

  2. Daniel Says:

    That doesn’t make much sense brendangrad. The contractor that collapsed the building had a license and insurance which would help make the point that you don’t need a license to do work and having a license doesn’t mean you can do the work. There are not strict laws about what homeowners can do to their own property, so you don’t need a licensed builder for anything short of additions. You can refinish your own roof if you want. Urban blight is actually what happens when you don’t have people living in a house, not when people are living in a house without paying for it. Having people invested in the community and in their house is what you want as a city. It also seems that you are stating that no one should be able to buy or own a house if they don’t have enough money to make possible repairs in the future. A bit harsh eh? Elitist and also not realistic. About 40% of homeowners would have to take a loan or borrow from friends if they needed to make any but the smallest repairs. Your points just don’t make sense.

  3. Fred Walton Says:

    actually brendangrad, there are a number of houses in west philly that were once squats that were bought by those who lived there nd fixed up…check out the 4800 block of baltimore to see examples

  4. Jessica meyers Says:

    Hey Fred. Could you contact me on facebook? I’d like to direct message you.

  5. Jessica meyers Says:

  6. real 46er Says:

    Does this house have dangerous structural problems or are you jumping to conclusions? Did you miss the part about contractors volunteering to help her?

    IMO a lived in house is better than an empty house. Even “dubious punks” need a place to not freeze in January. Why not a house owned with pride than a shell with hacked power?

  7. Spruce Central Says:

    Why doesn’t she just get a job instead of asking that *everything* be donated to her? With self-entitlement like that, she will find homeownership unsustainable.
    Mariposa is hiring. There are jobs.

  8. guy Says:

    what makes you think she doesnt have a job? because she doesnt have 10k$ laying around? she’s not asking that everything is donated. shes saying, hey im doing something positive for this block/neighborhood/community. supporting me will support this block/neighborhood/community, so if you can, and think these efforts are worth while, chip in a bit…if i could do it myself i would. from what i understand the building was a crack house before…..

  9. Jessica meyers Says:

    Thanks Annamarya for taking interest in me, and writing such a good article! To answer a few of the questions, the indiegogo was started at first to get the word out and try and get donations from all of the travelers/people who have stayed here over the years. As we gained media attention, I spread the link around. I have a few jobs that I work regularly, so I have some of my own money saved for the house, and would be able to afford the taxes, and future costs as they occurred. I don’t live off my own self entitlement, that is just silly. Also, without us living in this property and doing the initial repairs and future maintenance, it would have been unsound and probably demolished. And lastly, if you care and would like to donate, please donate to the new fundraiser. As I fear if you donate to the old one it will be returned.

  10. guy Says:

    AND if you ACTUALLY read the article, it states in the THIRD sentence, “loaned to her by friend and semi-employer Amira Dovah.” and ” Meyers said of the woman she’s worked for for five years “,later. so if you have some real criticism or points to make. lets discuss them.

  11. MaryJane Says:

    So..basically she’s begging for money and people are actually giving it to her? Maybe I should do the same..

  12. King Sessing Says:

    Yes, and you can also take on the responsibility of refurbishing an uninhabitable crackhouse on 52nd street. Sounds like free money to me too… (sarcasm)

  13. Daniel Says:

    Try. everyone has the right to ask. If you are a courageous, strong and loving person maybe you will already have a connection with hundreds of people who care about you, share your goals, and want to contribute to your success. Kickstarter, Indigogo and the others are full of people asking(you say begging) for money for reasons both personal and professional. Pretty awesome that she got it done though isn’t it?

  14. Arwin Says:

    I’m a little conflicted about this. I think it is great that Jessica took the initiative to work on a house, given that she didn’t technically own it and (presumably) knowing that everything could be taken away from her. I also think it’s great that her neighbors and friends (and complete strangers!) have stepped in to support her during all this.

    That being said, there are lots of people who intend to do the same thing, but go the legal route and purchase the house first. I would guess that those people, if they were to ask for volunteers and donations when they needed work done, would be met with the attitude of “well, if you couldn’t afford to rehab the house, why did you buy it?”

    I know I’ve made some assumptions and generalizations, but it just seems like a double standard. I also get that life isn’t fair and sometimes “the system” fails and you have to work around it to get anything done. It makes me uncomfortable, though.

  15. Jessica meyers Says:

    see the comment above you.

  16. lia Says:

    hey jess i’m proud of you PMA girl – i would love to help you with repairs.

  17. Jessica meyers Says:


  18. Jessica meyers Says:

  19. Anonymous Says:

    If the homes adjacent are occupied I hope Jessica will be especially conscientious to care for the shared walls and roofs despite her limited means. In Cedar Park there is a squat house in bad shape and I have seen neighbors try to discourage others from reporting the issues to the city because the squatters are “active in the community” and “working on a fundraiser” to make the repairs. Well, they’ve been organizing this fundraiser for about a year now meanwhile their property issues are damaging their neighbors’ homes. Be a good neighbor, Jessica!

  20. Jessica meyers Says:

    As I stated before, without our initial repairs and future maintenance this property would have been in horrible condition, and probably demolished. It is sound and livable the condition it is in, but our plans are to demo the inside and completely remodel the inside and out. I have a few jobs so I have some of my own money to pay the taxes and any other things that might arise. It is my legal home now. I am going to make it perfect now that I know no one can come along and buy it out from under me.

  21. Spruce Central Says:

    I doubt it. If you read the original article she plans to use the house she bought with donated money to host transients. I hope her neighbors don’t see an increase in crime, vandalism, and litter that always accompanies such situations.

  22. Jessica meyers Says:

    Spruce central, why do you feel the need to tear me and my good deeds down? You said you read the articles, and the articles all say that this house has been used as a place for these “transients” for the entire 8 years I’ve lived there. And that all of the neighbors have signed petitions saying I’ve made the house/ neighborhood better. Much better than a crack house…

  23. strongforu Says:

    With tens of thousands of abandoned homes around the city, they should all be sold to individuals and non-profits for $1. This way they could be made into livable homes that were owned by the residents. Ownership increases the sense of community and people are more likely to take care of the property and the neighborhood.

  24. William Says:

    I’m pleased to hear Jessica secured the house. Not all solutions to housing problems (homelessness, abandoned housing, etc) are found in traditional market-based spaces. I fail to understand the negativity of comments like Spruce Central’s. It’s not only negative, it’s based on unfounded stereotyping poor people and people who choose or circumstantially live outside mainstream middle class culture. What do you base your assertion that people she chooses to let stay with her will cause crime? When you have visitors, do your neighbors assume you are going to commit a crime?

  25. Regina Says:

    When you squat, are you paying rent? What sorts of things are you paying for?

  26. L Says:

    Many people who stay at houses like this are transients and squatters. This does NOT mean they are bad people. I have known many amiable, honest, and peaceful squatters over the years.

    However, these are usually the type of people who have *chosen* such a lifestyle. Nobody gets kicked out of their house and says “Welp, guess I have to dye my hair, get tattoos, squat somewhere, and listen to punk music.” They like to imagine they are “living off the grid”… until they want something, and then they have to ask “regular” people who “work for the system” to give them money. While I do not know Ms. Myers personally, everything I’ve read and seen about this story seems to indicate that the people who populate this house are of an anarcho/”crust” punk persuasion. (see the “N” in a circle symbol prominently displayed in the front window – a popular punk/anarchist squatting symbol)

    While everyone is entitled to their own political and social ideologies, I think it is immoral to ask for donations to buy a house when you’ve been squatting by CHOICE. If you faced sudden foreclosure or homelessness due to cancer, a death in your family, a financial crisis out of your control, etc, and therefore are requesting donations as a last resort, fine. But squatter punks are perfectly capable of making their own way. There are many former squatters in our neighborhood who now pay their own rent or mortgage through legitimate means, without help from benefactors.

    With all this in mind – why is it suddenly so urgent that you own this home? Why not redirect the flow of money you spend on “renovations” to rent your own place? Or alternately, just move on to a new squat?

    And who has been paying utilities this whole time?

  27. William Says:

    L- You seem to have a lot of anecdotal notions about people in this community. How anyone chooses to organize their life is really not our judgment call, it is hers, perhaps her family and friends. How is her choice to raise money to buy an abandoned house she decided to occupy and maintain (among the myriad of abandoned houses in the city) less “legitimate” than getting a mortgage or renting an existing house (or getting family/company money to buy up abandoned properties for resale)?

  28. JessMeyers Says:

    I started the fundraiser to get help from those who have stayed here over the years because the house went to auction and I won. I’ve been putting blood, sweat, tears and 8 years of love into this house and neighborhood. I fight for what I believe in, and though I made a choice, I believe it was the right one, as what is the alternative? The city of Philadelphia ( or anywhere for that matter) having the choice to board and leave houses they are supposed to be renovating and moving low income into to deteriorate and turn into crime dens? Then auctioning off to the highest bidder (not low income) ? There are 24 abandoned houses for every 1 homeless person in this country. People should be fighting the real issue, not bashing me for trying to secure this home. I have jobs and I have money to pay for taxes/ utilities. Just don’t have 10k on my own. I don’t consider myself as the primary owner, as the house has been shared, worked on and loved by hundreds of people over the 8 years. I am just the person that the responsibility is falling upon, as most of them are the traveling kind.

  29. L Says:

    William, my main concern is with the morality of the issue – to squat by choice (ostensibly living free of the burdens of ownership or government compliance) and then to ask members of the community to donate THEIR money so said squatter can purchase the house.

    To me, this would be fine if the purpose of the house were to be transitioned into a community haven, such as: battered women’s shelter (with counseling services), mental health patient half-way house, temporary living for displaced families, a safe house for troubled youth, etc. But, that would require a LOT of resources and ongoing support from the community. To say that this house is a valid community resource because it simply provides a roof for various like-minded travelers to sleep under… Well, I’m not sure if that’s enough to deserve our charity.

    My secondary concern, as mentioned above, is how the house has been accessing electricity, water, gas, etc for the past 8 years.

  30. lindsey Says:

    ive personally resided and contributed to this household. and yes… it IS a household! The people who stay there are a family at any given time. Some people may not understand that not everything in this world can not be measured monetarily…but by the effort and dedication the people involved put into it.

    It is a place children have visited and grown..learned and been loved. Though somethings in the house may not be perfect now, it is safe and has every potential for being up to code and more than livable.

    How many times have you ever needed help? advice, a shoulder to cry on? This person doesnt deserve judgement…they deserve praise and a fucking round of applause. keep your negative, uptight jealous garbage to yourself….or make a trip to 52nd and funston and say it to her face…..cowardly jerk.

  31. Steve Says:

    No one is saying that the squatter *can’t* ask for other people to buy a house for her. There’s no law against that. I think people just find her sense of entitlement shocking, so they feel the need to comment on it. There’s no law against that, either.

  32. Arwin Says:

    Spot on, Steve. Thank you.

    There are plenty of “courageous, strong, and loving people” who have “connections with 100s of people who care about them, share their goals, and want to contribute to their success” out there. That doesn’t mean that those caring people can always throw money at someone else’s projects (no matter how noble those projects are). Can friends help out in an a way that “cannot be measured monetarily”? Absolutely–I had 6 friends show up at my house this weekend to break up over 2 tons of concrete, on short notice, without any expectation of payment, monetary or otherwise. Can a friend will a skill give you advice about how to fix a problem with your house? Of course–that’s what friends do. Somewhere down the line, someone will have to be paid, though, no matter how great of a person you are. 2x4s and drywall and wiring and paint cost a lot of money. Pluck and donations are only going to get you so far.

    I also don’t appreciate the implication that anyone who is saying anything critical about this is a “cowardly jerk” or isolated in the community or weak or fearful.

    By your logic, Lindsey, perhaps you should stop by a house where the owners are working their asses off (just as hard as Jessica is) and also paying a mortgage. Go ahead and call them “negative uptight jealous garbage”. Please report back.

  33. JessMeyers Says:

    It is cowardly to pick on the small guy trying to make it, that is something bullies do. Why not go after the big dog, P.H.A. and the city of Philadelphia. Did you know the sheriffs office here in Philly was raided by the FBI just last week for shady sheriff sales on these houses? And the money they get for these sheriff sales is what would help open Philly schools on time? I guess protesting against the real threat to these communities is to daunting to people who sit behind a computer and judge others.

  34. Arwin Says:

    PHA and the City have really messed up with sheriff sales and pretty much everything else that has to do with property management. The school situation is horrendous and inexcusable, and yes, much of that could be fixed by properly managing abandoned/deteriorating/delinquent properties. No argument there. You’re making an assumption that just because someone disagrees with your methods, they don’t care about the issues as much as you do. That’s divisive and unfair.

    I don’t see how trying to have a reasonably civil (if sometimes snarky) two-sided conversation is picking on anyone. Disagreeing with someone does not make you a bully, nor does it mean you’re in some fancy ivory tower with no struggles of your own.

    And yes, we’re all (including you) sitting behind computers judging each other. It’s a comment thread. It’s a necessary evil that ideally allows us to have discussions, despite our varying schedules, locations, etc.

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s great that you’re motivated enough to put so much work and love into your house and neighborhood. I just don’t think it’s a sustainable model for procuring and keeping housing. It seems like you really love Philly, though, and Philly definitely needs some people who love it.

  35. Christina Says:

    I think people can ask for whatever money they want (though once they ask in a public forum they’re gonna hear a lot more than they asked for) and people can choose to give or not. But what I honestly wonder is how, if someone doesn’t pay a mortgage/rent for 8 years but is working during that time, she doesn’t have $2500 saved.

  36. Jessica meyers Says:

    I had $2,500, just not $10,000

  37. L Says:

    Let’s do some math.

    If Ms. Meyer’s income from the “odd jobs” she claims she holds nets her the equivalent of 30 hours a week at a minimum wage job (to allow for the fact that these are probably not consistent 40-hour work weeks)

    7/hr x 30hrs/week = $840/month

    And allowing for $100/week for food (reasonable for a single 20-something person with no children)

    And $200/month for variable/incidental expenses (Averaging $50/week for clothing, medicine, toiletries, etc)

    And not paying rent or utilities for 8 years:

    Ms. Meyers should have a net worth of roughly $23,000 cash.

    Subtracting $2000 for “repairs” she’s done on the house, and (just for giggles) if $1000/year was spent on, I don’t know, transportation, entertainment?

    That would still leave $13,000.

    So if she works, but hasn’t paid rent or utilities in at least 8 years, and still didn’t have $10,000 saved up… something doesn’t add up. Where is the money going? I only ask because Ms. Meyers seems eager to be transparent about her sincerity and the pureness of her cause.

  38. Christina Says:

    hmmn. interesting. i don’t know if i think she’d (or any of us) have as much as 13K saved up, but I would ask: how much did you really want the house if you only had 2.5K saved? And look, I acknowledge that this will sound like a shitty question to you, but it’s my question nonetheless. I donate to a lot of causes online, but they’re ones where I feel like everyone involved is fiscally responsible.

  39. Jessica meyers Says:

    L, I’m not sure you know the meaning of transparent. I’ve contacted and done at least 4 news stories trying to shed light on this city owned abandoned properties. I’ve also been helping hundreds of people over the eight years I’ve been here, including my neighbors. Food, clothes, train/ bus fair home, shelter may have been free but those things are not. And heres a link for the most recent news story >

  40. Jessica meyers Says:

    ooops, thats this story! heres the real link>>>

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