Squatting, Then and Now

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

As former squats in the East Village make the transition to coops, making homes from abandoned housing is again an issue. Andrew Reicher executive director of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Frank Morales an Episcopal priest involved in East Village/Lower East Side squatting and homelessness activism since the late '70s, and Rob Robinson, a leader of the Housing Campaign of Picture the Homeless, discuss the return of squatting.


Frank Morales, Andrew Reicher and Rob Robinson

Comments [45]

ARB Welah from Manhattan

Dear Brian,

Tomorrow when you interview the state comptroller, kindly ask him to explain the Metropolitan Commuter Mobility Tax. I just received a tax notice from the state that a new payroll tax is being imposed and even independent contractors and limited liability partners must pay this tax. This tax is to close the gap that the .25 fare increase creates as it is obviously not enough. On top of the fare increase, we all must now pay an additional amount via tax. Employers will pass this onto their employees. People need to be made aware of this! As I work at home, I rarely have to use the public transportation system. If anything, I guess I should be charged an immobility tax!

Thank you, ARB Welah

Jul. 08 2009 11:23 AM
LES-er from LES

I agree that this show was all over the place. You had one guy organizing people who are losing their homes because of foreclosure, or live in areas that are going down hill because of massive foreclosures, and then you have the LES squatters, and they are a total different story. Maybe Andy Reicher should have talked about the Rainbow Squat that is suing UHAB to get title to the building so that they don't have to be subject to any resale restrictions. Maybe he also should have talked about the income of those people. Fashion executives making over $100k. Yeah, the kind of people I want to help. Don't people remember when these apartments were featured in the NY Times Style Section? Come on! And although these people will ultimately (um, Bullet space did not convert to a coop, only the loan converted, or so a blog reported) purchase their apartments for $250 bucks, the average resale will be more like $200,000. The best investment I have ever heard of, given they have been paying under $200 bucks a month for years. And yes, these buildings are going to be rampant with abuses and will not be permanently affordable. A JOKE!!!!! These buildings should have been given to LES Peoples to be rental housing. At least those buildings are legit and not full of over income posers!

May. 27 2009 10:11 PM
Alan Moore from Staten Island

What your guests were talking about is political squatting, which is not the same as vagabond opportunism. As a form of organized direct action, it pressures politicians to take actions they otherwise would not. No one pays them to build housing for poor people; developers pay politicians to give the land to them. What you gonna do? Well... And it isn't just about housing. It is interesting to note that in Europe and other countries there is a new movement of political squatting -- squatting to make social centers. These centers are places for people to gather and do activities without paying rent, and without government supervision. Social centers host bands, cafes, film screenings, immigrants' rights centers -- all kinds of activities which are commercialized or government controlled in the USA. How about a place where you can make the culture you want even if you don't have money? Social centers happen because people make them happen with their labor and spirit, not with their money. Governments and rich landowners can afford to let people use their derelict properties for a while. Only in the USA is the dog entitled to the manger...

May. 27 2009 03:12 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

I had the misfortune of listening to this show this morning. Many of the comments above are spot on. If wnyc want to put on opinion like this, why do the moderators not engage in the kind of critical thinking shown by the commenters, or include an knowledgable, intelligent person with a different viewpoint in the discussion if the moderator is reluctant or unable to serve that function? What about discussing the broader issue of the enormous taxpayer-looting sociological nightmare that public housing in this country has turned out to be (well intentioned as it may have been)? I've had the same frustration when establishment characters like the now-former head of the MTA are allowed to spout their well-rehearsed corporate type line on wnyc without any critical questioning.

May. 27 2009 03:08 PM
Mike from Inwood

To continue [40] while property rights are not absolute, the idea that people who deem themselves worthy can simply appropriate someone else's peoperty is ludicrous. If property needs to be redistributed in a way that is not theft, there must be consensus. Until we can vote in a government that can do this, we do not have consensus and individuals simply taking back God's land is theft. I expect some lightwieght like Zach on the UWS to come up with some hyperbolic argument like 'If what you say is true, then people in the middle of Katrina should not have taken food out of stores'. This is nonsense. No ones immediate needs are at stake. To live in NYC is a choice. I know. I used to live 20 miles from the Canadian border where marginally farmable land was $125 an acre. It didn't take much cash to live there and this country is full of spots like these. Like it or not, this country will be largely capitalist for the foreseeable future and you do not get to choose to live anywhere you'd like without the money to do so. If you choose to make art of pursue some other activity that does not generate enough money to live here, leave! I did not choose to live here. I would've been happy to have remained near the Canadian border, economic circumstances forced me here where there are (still) lots of jobs. New Yorkers do not realize that he tough times we've seen over the past year or two have been the state of affairs in much of the coutry for the last 35 years.

May. 27 2009 12:45 PM
Mike from Inwood

Zach from UWS [36]: While I don't deny having read Ayn Rand, (a lightwieght compated to Adam Smith) I've also read most of what is published under Karl Marx's name. I do not live in a doorman building. In fact, if it were not for rent stabilization, I would not live in a neighborhood (Inwood) that is much less expensive than your own gentrified UWS. I do not own a car. I do not eat in expensive restaurants. By spending most of my time working at a job that I don't like, I am able to be just above the economic class of people who are squatters. If it were not for my rent, I would not have to work at a job I don't like. So why should I work when I can squat. And once people like me squat, why would those marginally better off not choose to squat? And eventually, why would the people in million dollar homes choose to pay their mortagages? Once everyone else is squatting, why should they fork out? You are a lame lightwieght named Zach living on the UWS who spouts liberal crap because it gets you laid.

May. 27 2009 12:32 PM

#31, 32

In any case, how can you argue definitively argue that x group of settlers has any more rights to buy and sell land than others?

May. 27 2009 12:11 PM
JP from The Garden State

Ok, so let’s just make it a free for all!!!! Just take what you want!!! Its just stolen land form American Indians who really own it, right?!?! How dare rich people own overpriced land!!! It should be doled out to everyone who is not rich!!! And no taxes on that free land!!! We don’t need to pay for new schools, better roads, police service, fire service, public transportation, etc, etc…. That’s all just a waist of money!!!! Free land for all and taxes for none!!!!

Sounds pretty stupid huh? But like it or not, that’s what squatting would be if it was the norm…. You have to pay for all that stuff that everyone takes for granted, even if its in crappy shape and corrupt. If not then who will?

May. 27 2009 12:01 PM

People who profit from owning real estate that they do not occupy are pigs and IMO have no rights. 'Nuff said.

May. 27 2009 11:57 AM
Zach from UWS

Mike From Inwood's arguments are regurgitated Randian crap. The idea that the vast majority of people would "go Galt" and suddenly start swatting and dumpster diving is laughable. The reason the entrepreneurial class stays at it has everything to do with choice and status. You have the status and money to choose where you live, what car you drive, and what you eat. Most squatters, like the aforementioned Rhode Islanders living in an abandoned room off of a mall parking lot, are choosing to live in a place without a doorman and a 24 hour maintenance team. Do you really think that most members of the upper-middle class would choose that over the niceties of their pampered existence (bought with their hand-earned money)?

There will always be a desire on the part of some to set themselves apart from the unwashed masses. That is why cosmetic surgeons and other providers of private and elective medical care don't have to worry about the ever-increasing demand for affordable universal healthcare.

May. 27 2009 11:53 AM
M Premo from Brooklyn

We buy and sell stolen land. This land belonged to Native Peoples. Now we buy and sell as if we have a right to buy and sell it. In the eyes of morality why is that right any more just then the fundamental right to have a place to live. Over 30 countries including South Africa have enshrined this right in their constitutions. Mandela said a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners, well the same can be said for how we treat the poor.

May. 27 2009 11:41 AM
Kamal from Jackson Heights, Queens

get a real job and pay rent like everyone else...

May. 27 2009 11:40 AM
Tej from NYC

Stay tuned to Picture the Homeless's blog
to keep up with housing issues and activism around New York City.

More on Miami's Take Back the Land, including ABC News, Good Morning America, and New York Times coverage:

May. 27 2009 11:37 AM
Mike from Inwood

sm [28] states: "Technically we're all squatting (if you're not Native American)"

sm: Native Amercians are not all part of some large extended family that lived from sea to shining sea. They fought each other ruthlessly. The Native Americans who lived in any particular spot when the Europeans came were squatting on the land of the other Native Americans who were there squatting there before them.

May. 27 2009 11:36 AM
Kamal from Jackson Heights, Queens

#28 - native americans are squatters too

how dare they and you soil the planet & mother earth with your human needs

earth day!!

May. 27 2009 11:35 AM
Melissa from Jackson Heights, Queens

We as New Yorkers have to address the issue of affordable housing, in Manhattan too! I was forced out of Manhattan by the cost of housing and developers. There is now a 40 story condominium sitting empty on the site of my old building. The Bloomberg administration invited these people in and called it business development. I'm currently unemployed how about you.
There has to be a change in the way realestate is thought of, the fix the prices, most of the sales market is to avoid the rental landlords. As a lifelong New Yorker I'm discusted.


May. 27 2009 11:30 AM
Mike from Inwood

I show up at a job I hate to afford an apartment. Why should I, or anyone else, bother to do so if I can simply squat? For that matter, why bother pay the bill at the lunch counter? Isn't food a human right? Or pay the fare on the subway? Isn't transportation a right, too? So maybe no one should payt for anything, there'll be no businesses, nothing will produced, except what we make for ourselves out of whatever we find. The world will come to resemble a post apocalypse wasteland. These people are lame. I'd like to see the taxes I pay build them a new house: a prison where they belong.

May. 27 2009 11:29 AM

Technically we're all squatting (if you're not Native American).

May. 27 2009 11:27 AM
Sandra from Astoria, Queens

I think it's time we embrace FDR's idea of a second Bill of Rights that would secure economic rights (whereas the Constitutional BoR secured political rights):

May. 27 2009 11:26 AM
scnex from harlem

can we talk about the native people of this land... who is this that is taking back the land? the land was taking in the first place and look what has happened...

May. 27 2009 11:26 AM
Chuck Renaud from Brooklyn

Like the health care system, the housing system is does not work.

This city needs affordable, decent housing for all.

Why am I paying almost 40% of my paycheck for? Bombs?

Government has been a bad landlord.

May. 27 2009 11:24 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

It's sad to see that some underachieving artists could break the law to get a cheap place to live in the East Village. True, it's much more hip than living in Mom's basement, but aren't some other people more deserving of the housing? I hope that these same squatters will come out to demonstrate in support of the Jewish "settlers" in the West Bank who are reclaiming their ancestral lands. Oh, wait --- that's not hip.

May. 27 2009 11:24 AM
Susy from manhattan

I agree with the caller.
I don't think it's right for people to just move in to property that does not belong to them.

Perhaps if they had an agreement to maintain the property, I could see it. But often, squatters do not INVEST at all in the property they inhabit...or maintain it...which isn't good for society.

May. 27 2009 11:24 AM
Ben from Providence

This is a bit of a different story, but in Providence RI a few years ago, there were three artists who discovered a forgotten, room in the parking garage of the Providence Place Mall. They moved in, and lived in the mall for over a year. It was a pretty cozy, with heat and electricity.

May. 27 2009 11:24 AM
Rick from Queens

Squatting and Jury Nullification? How about actual debate about these topics vs. just giving voice to advocates?

Note that both of these practices totally disregard law and government. That's just great. Let's all pick and choose what laws to abide by and what to ignore and claim the moral high ground for doing so.

I'm disappointed, Mr. Lehrer, that you won't host an actual debate (with experts) about the pros and cons of these two topics rather than just giving one side?

May. 27 2009 11:24 AM

Housing is a human right. Housing in Tribeca is more of a, I dunno, trick?

May. 27 2009 11:23 AM
Darius from Prospect Heights

I'd like to ask the caller if he knows anyone that would choose to *not* have a place to live.

May. 27 2009 11:23 AM
Hugh from Brookyn

Housing is a choice? Damn!

What happened to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?!

Next, that caller will be saying that eating is a choice. Sure, people can 'choose' not to eat.

That caller is dangerously close to simple Ayn Rand fascism.

May. 27 2009 11:23 AM
Tim from westchester

Your guest said "not a dime is spent on housing for poor people in this country," which is absolutely ludicrous. Sonia Sotomayor, was raised in a public housing project, 100's of millions if not billions are spent on public and affordable housing, which is made available to those who are willing and able to jump through the hoops to get it. Certainly, the public shelters aren't sufficient, but while there are few like your guest who squat constructively and responsibly, most squats are havens for criminals, active drug users, endangered runaways, and the denizens steal services, often endangering themselves, neighbors and utility workers. Even the world's largest and perhaps most successful squat has a history of attracting violent crime. There has to be a way to use the dilapidated housing stock in a responsible way in which, like your guest, the squatters assume real, legal responsibility. If not, they don't deserve the buildings.

May. 27 2009 11:23 AM
artista from greenpoint

housing is a HUMAN right.
It has often been recognized around the world (Internitional declaration of human rights?) and it is hard to see how that could be denied.
WIthout the right to a decent place to live, people are nothing more than feral animals.
this discussion is a good counterpoint to the earlier one on public housing, because it is about the end of the idea of society's responsiblity to ensure that residents and citizens can live in a decent home.
(and the end of rent control, for the sake of landlord profit).

Hurrah for Bullet Space, and the sweat equity movement, killed by the city when it was shown to succeed! Perhaps people do not remember what the LES was like in the years when houses were being burned out, flipped, and warehoused empty, with at least the passive collusion of the city.

Squatting may indeed be what saves many areas of newly foreclosed cities.

Arguing that the sweat equity movement somehow threatens other householders is a false moralism.

May. 27 2009 11:22 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

And since this building is a co-op now, does that mean only the person currently occupying the apartment is entitled to that apartment, or is anyone who needs a place also entitled to live in that apartment if they so choose. I mean, it’s only fair and it is GODS LAND.
Sounds like it would be even better if anyone from the working poor to new graduates, young urban professionals, to retirees could live anywhere of their choosing for free because it would free up their dollars to participate in the market and give then the boost they need.

May. 27 2009 11:22 AM
George from NYC

Squatting is simply ridiculous. Nuff said

May. 27 2009 11:22 AM
Hugh from Brookyn

Bravo Squatters!

The city is doing zip to aid middle class and poorer New Yorkers. Rents are going low enough for people who are losing work and trying to get by on New York's below-average unemployment benefits. (And of course, if you're an artist or somebody else who doesn't get compensation, you are really up the creek.)

May. 27 2009 11:21 AM
Darius from Prospect Heights

Land "ownership" is truly a farce and I thank Brian's guest for saying so. No one is actually making land anymore (except in Iceland) so how could you buy it or sell it.

May. 27 2009 11:21 AM
Claudia Cruz from Washington Heights

My family obtained an 8020 apartment in 2001 and the tax exemption that the developer received will expire in 2021, at which point the rent will be raised to market value. The apartment is located in the midtown near the United Nations.

My concern is that in 2021, my family will not have made the income required to continue living in that 'borrowed' apartment at market value rent. My mother lives on a fixed income and my sister, who makes a decent wage in this economy, wants to be a social worker. How will they afford to pay rent in 2021? Will they have to move back to Washington Heights? Will they be able to afford rent there?

May. 27 2009 11:20 AM
Mavrik from NYC

The private sector should not be burdened with housing the homeless. Managing people who can afford high rents is difficult enough. Managing a building with the formerly homeless is an absolute nightmare. Its better to pay taxes for more public housing projects than for a private hard working self starter landlord to act as policeman and surrogate parent.

May. 27 2009 11:19 AM
Alex from Queens

Government also has a duty to try to raise the greatest amount of tax revenue. That is the real reason why they work with men like Trump. How is squating not thieving? Maybe I should "squat" some of my roommates areas?

May. 27 2009 11:18 AM
Mike from Inwood

Why shouldn't we all stop paying our rent and start 'squatting'? All of these guys have a point, but they are basically simpletons with no real solutions. Slow news day, Brian?

May. 27 2009 11:18 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

So the pro-squatting premise is everyone should get to live wherever they want, regardless of means or the rights of the actual property owner, because it’s their innate right? No one has to pay for anything if they feel they’ve personally decided they are entitled enough to it?
Moving out of NYC wasn’t an option, or are they just too entitled and self-righteous to leave?
How many other things are people entitled to for free, because they feel they deserve it?
(I agree development during the bubble in NYC was disgusting, at best, but this argument is ludicrous.)

May. 27 2009 11:17 AM

In the 90s St. Marks Street was full of "hippie" college students from middle class/wealthy backgrounds who romanticized street life...

May. 27 2009 11:16 AM
Carol from Brooklyn

Is this something that's gotten worse in Bloomberg's 2 terms as mayor?

May. 27 2009 11:16 AM
SidHar from LES

Since when is housing that only has a 30 year restriction on price "permanently affordable" in the eyes of the law? Hasn't UHAB already learned that their model is fundamentally flawed? I look forward to talking about these very squats selling for market in 30 years when their restrictions have expired. FLAWED!!!!!!!

May. 27 2009 11:16 AM
Hans from Brooklyn

The Cooperative Village in the L.E.S was started as permanently affordable housing, complete with price caps on sales. Then they get those caps removed. So much for permanently affordable housing.

May. 27 2009 11:16 AM
RLewis from The Bowery

I would love to see these guys succeed, but they really will need to explain how is "Housing is a civil right"? Where in our Constitution or Bill of Rights or what does it say so?

The conservatives are gonna kill his cause if he doesn't have a good answer to this.

May. 27 2009 11:12 AM

Just thought I would include this link

about something very sad that is going on in Denmark *right now* to do with Christiania, which is almost certainly the largest, most elaborate communal squat in the western world. It has been around since 1970. People have raised families there, and now the government wants to kick them out and bulldoze.

May. 27 2009 10:05 AM

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