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April 8, 2014 4:53 AM   Subscribe

"Squatters took up the fight where the homesteaders had shown the way, occupying abandoned buildings with a more DIY approach. Whereas homesteaders, beholden to the rules of the government programs that sponsored them, hadn’t been permitted to occupy a building until the work was complete, squatters moved in and lived in the raw spaces from the beginning, putting in the time and effort to transform the buildings without the financial support or sanction of the government. They scavenged materials where they could, and employed skill-sharing, learning building skills from those with experience and then passing that knowledge along. By 1989, there were an estimated two-dozen squatted buildings in the Lower East Side."
posted by frimble (10 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lovely. :) Well, not, but great story telling. Just finished rereading Make Room Make Room and City of Darkness; fits in very well. Reminds me of what we have now, with folks squatting in single family homes now in services-removed areas of Detroit and bits of Ohio, and of the squatting happening around here too (though here in Florida it's squat, strip, move on).
posted by tilde at 6:49 AM on April 8


It had no floor or windows; no heat, no electricity, no running water. With the help of fellow squatters, she rebuilt the apartment over a period of several years.

One the one hand, this is very positive in that is shows what can be accomplished by determined individuals who take matters into their own hands and work together outside of the mainstream of government red-tape.

OTOH, these squatters are simply libertarian scabs who ignore government regulations, don't rely on government handouts, and don't employ skilled union labor.
posted by three blind mice at 6:59 AM on April 8


I find myself really frustrated with the excuse that there was nowhere else to stay, so people were forced to squat. It's simply not true in NYC, which has a Right to Shelter encased into the state's constitution. A lot of this is people who didn't want to give up their lifestyles to find housing. They wanted to "get some poems done".

I also note that some of the court battles were to keep the places they'd been squatting in, which were going to provide affordable housing. So it's not just "the squatters vs the fatcats", but "the squatters vs the other low income individuals in need of housing."

And no matter how much sympathetic reporters might compare the situation to the "Battle of Berlin", there is no excuse for boobytrapping the very building they were claiming was safe, or for dousing cars with gasoline to try to create fire barricades, or for shooting rockets at helicopters. Let's be clear: the effect of these actions was to injure or kill. The squatters were willing to kill people to keep temporary possession of a building they had illegally acquired. Not okay by any means.
posted by corb at 7:15 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I find myself really frustrated with the excuse that there was nowhere else to stay, so people were forced to squat. It's simply not true in NYC, which has a Right to Shelter encased into the state's constitution. A lot of this is people who didn't want to give up their lifestyles to find housing. They wanted to "get some poems done".

Yes and no. I mean, could most of these people have gotten jobs and paid for a share in an apartment? Probably yes. But New York's Right to Shelter is pretty crappy if the shelter you go to is dangerous, bedbug infested or just not clean.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:18 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


But New York's Right to Shelter is pretty crappy if the shelter you go to is dangerous, bedbug infested or just not clean.

Yeah, but that description also covers at least half of the hotels in Manhattan!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:34 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Another terrific piece of reading about this is War in the Neighborhood, a graphic novel by Seth Tobocman.

It's an unflinching look at the squatter's movements: its people, its reasons, its aspirations, its shortcomings, infightings, threats, ideals.

A really honest and touching book.
posted by entropone at 7:48 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Given the rich history here and the easily accessible participants, I'm surprised that the author chose to write a novel rather than acting as conduit for first-hand accounts, but maybe that's just me.

On an unrelated note, I know this is pedantry but Stuy Town is in the East Village, not the Lower East Side. Totally different neighborhoods.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 8:28 AM on April 8


I also note that some of the court battles were to keep the places they'd been squatting in, which were going to provide affordable housing. So it's not just "the squatters vs the fatcats", but "the squatters vs the other low income individuals in need of housing."

From the article:
In the fall of 1994, five squats on E. 13th Street were targeted by the city. Democratic city council member Antonio Pagan led a plan to oust the squatters and replace their buildings with 41 units of low-income housing, with a minimum income of $13,800 for a studio apartment (an income requirement higher than the median income of the neighborhood at that time), including the squatters who resided in the buildings. This new housing would be managed by Lower East Side Coalition Housing Development, a nonprofit directed by Pagan.
So we're talking about a plan to evict the people living in previously-vacant buildings, in order to build "affordable" housing that over half the residents of the neighborhood couldn't actually afford. Or are you referring to something not covered in the article?

there is no excuse for boobytrapping the very building they were claiming was safe, or for dousing cars with gasoline to try to create fire barricades, or for shooting rockets at helicopters. Let's be clear: the effect of these actions was to injure or kill. The squatters were willing to kill people to keep temporary possession of a building they had illegally acquired. Not okay by any means.

No one is claiming the squatters were saints, but painting them as murderous criminals because they were willing to shoot fireworks or torch a car is pretty weak.
posted by twirlip at 12:28 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


About ten years ago I worked on a book called Glass House that was a photo/oral history of one such alphabet city squatter community. Some photos from the book, and one the oral histories, Donny's.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:07 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


the excuse that there was nowhere else to stay, so people were forced to squat.

At the time, before the real estate boom, the dynamics were quite different. Manhattan was still expensive compared to almost anywhere else in the US, but it had vast derelict reaches, including a significant swath of the LES/East Village. When I lived there in the 1980s, it was a little incomprehensible to me that gentrification of the area was basically unimaginable, but so it was, and there wasn't much to stop people from moving in. The irony is that they weren't taking something that was valuable now, just something someone was holding onto because it (or the land it was built on) might be valuable someday. In a city with vast numbers of poor and homeless, it is a short leap to considering that verging on a crime against humanity.
posted by dhartung at 6:32 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


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