Research | Urban Homesteading

I am so sorry for the late response, but hereby our presentation from last week. Some updates about our research process will soon be followed!

Good luck everyone!


Week 4_presentation_Financial Base

This image shows the people that we are going to interview and from which organisation they are.

The interviews are set up for next week and the questions will follow soon, whereas we did not yet know to whom we were going to talk.


April and Wendy


5 thoughts on “Research | Urban Homesteading


    In the contentious struggle for the right to housing, the rhetorical narrative has pivoted on questions such as what constitutes equitable housing, who should have access to it, and what forces should decide who’s in and who gets left out in the cold. However, far more mundane topics like property taxes, home value, and regulation such as fire code have likely held greater sway over the housing policy debate than rights-based issues. In the context of Urban Homesteading, these arguments, both for and against, have driven the subject forward and back again on the public stage.

    Homesteading was sold first and foremost on the basis that it would repair housing stock, revitalize neighborhoods, and return property tax revenue. Importantly, these arguments were made in the context of systemic urban decline.

    Below are examples of current and past rhetoric around homesteading and descriptions of related programs.

    The most successful contemporary radical cooperative movement in the US is a local movement spanning the last four decades and led by an inspiring grassroots spirit of revolt: the building occupations of the urban homestead limited equity cooperative movement in New York City.

    In the mid-1960s, many New York landlords in low-income neighborhoods abandoned their apartment buildings because they considered them not profitable enough, averaging 38,000 abandoned units a year by the end of the decade. The City foreclosed for non-payment of taxes and serious code violations, and assumed ownership as “landlord of last resort.” In 1969 a group of neighbors on East 102nd Street in Manhattan, mainly Puerto Rican families, took over two buildings by direct action and started rehabilitating them through sweat equity as cooperatives. That touched off a direct action tenant movement in other neighborhoods. In 1970 groups of squatters took over vacant buildings on West 15th, 111th, 122nd streets, and along Columbus Avenue around 87th Street, proclaiming the community’s right to possession of a place to live. The City reacted by evicting most of the squatters, but public outcry resulted in their granting management control of some of the buildings to community organizations for rehabilitation by the tenants themselves. Several cooperative development nonprofits were formed, including the Urban Homestead Assistance Board (UHAB), which became the most effective organization. In 1973, 286 buildings were slated for urban homesteading, but funding obstacles undercut their efforts. Forty-eight of these buildings were actually completed as homesteaded low-income limited-equity co-ops.

    In the 1980s New York tenant groups led many squats, taking over abandoned buildings illegally at first and rehabilitating them. By 1981 the City had become the owner by foreclosure of about 8,000 buildings with around 112,000 apartments, 34,000 of the units still occupied. At the urging of housing activist groups, particularly UHAB, the City instituted urban homesteading programs to legally sell the buildings to their squatting tenants for sweat equity and a token payment, with a neighborhood organization or a non-profit development organization often becoming manager during rehabilitation. By 1984, 115 buildings had been bought as limited-equity tenant co-ops under the Tenant Interim Lease Program, with another 92 in process. UHAB provided technical assistance, management training and all-around support. Autonomous groups of squatters continued to take over buildings, with an estimated 500 to 1,000 squatters in 32 buildings on the Lower East Side alone in the 1990s. Hundreds of Latino factory workers and their families squatted in the South Bronx. The City’s response changed with the political winds. Some City administrations curtailed the homestead program and evicted many of the squats, but some squatter groups successfully resisted eviction. In the ‘90s the City renewed its support of tenant homesteading, and by 2002 over 27,000 New York families were living in homesteaded low-income co-ops. Over the last 30 years UHAB has worked to successfully transform over 1,300 buildings into limited equity co-ops, and 42 more buildings are currently in their pipeline containing 1,264 units, most of them in Harlem and the Lower East Side.

    The urban homestead movement is based in law on the concepts of squatters rights and homesteading. Homesteading is by permission, usually on government-owned land or land with no legal owner. The homesteader—like the squatter—gains title to the land in exchange for the sweat equity of working it for a certain time period, usually 10 years. In many cases people who start as squatters become homesteaders. Squatters rights and homesteading have been part of US and English common law since very early times, and are deeply embedded in American history. With squatting—legally called “adverse possession”—the squatter takes possession of the land or building without permission of occupancy from the legal owner. Squatters use adverse possession to claim a legal right to land or buildings. The idea is that a person who openly occupies and improves a property for a set amount of time is entitled to ownership, even though that property may have originally not belonged to them. For the first thirty days of occupation, squatters are legally trespassers liable to eviction without cause. During this time squatters are usually discrete about their presence, but open enough to be able to document their occupation. After thirty days, they gain squatters’ rights—or tenants’ rights—and in New York thereafter can only be evicted by a court order. At that time the squatters often openly begin to undertake major renovations or improvements.

    The basic concept has been used beyond housing elsewhere in the Americas. The core idea of the Mexican Revolution (1910-17) was “land for those who work it,” and that concept was enshrined in the Mexican Constitution as the ejido system of communal property. The Brazilian Constitution (1988) says that land that remains unproductive should be used for a “larger social function.” (18) Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) used that constitutional right as the legal basis for numerous land occupations. The largest social movement in Latin America today with an estimated 1.5 million members, MST has peacefully occupied unused land since 1985, won land titles for more than 350,000 families in 2,000 settlements, and established about 400 cooperative associations for agricultural production, marketing, services, and credit, as well as constructing houses, schools, and clinics.
    This is an excerpt of a blog entry by John Curl

    NYTIMES – 1983
    In Brookhaven, L.I., 700 people have signed up for a homesteading lottery this spring that will offer 20 houses that the town had taken over for nonpayment of taxes. ”I’d say three-quarters of those are young marrieds and the overwhelming majority are living with their parents or a relative,” said Edward Romaine, the town’s director of community development. ”The minute we announced this program, we stopped announcing it, we had so many.” Saving Money Difficult

    The Local Property Urban Homesteading Demonstration:

    Some, but not all, of the Demonstration cities found it more difficult to acquire properties than they had anticipated. Many cities found it difficult to identify candidate properties and the acquisition process was typically time-consuming and uncertain. Some cities amended their original eligibility criteria, particularly in the definition of ‘in the process of tax foreclosure’ to enable them to acquire more properties.

    The identification of candidate properties proved to be a more difficult task than most of the Demonstration cities anticipated. Perhaps more used to an essentially passive role in the regular program where HOD routinely supplied lists of vacant, unencumbered properties, the Demonstration cities were forced to seek out suitable properties. This was done with varying degrees of vigor across the cities.

    In announcing the Local Property Demonstration, HOD expressed its wish that “recipients permit self-help and sweat-equity”. HOD also noted that “while sweat-equity projects normally involve homesteader participation in the physical rehabilitation and construction work itself, self-help may take other forms such as participation in planning, designing, decision-making or management”

    Bush Proposes Urban Homesteading:
    One of the most intriguing was a pledge to bring the city’s displaced home through a pioneering program of urban homesteading. Noting that “homeownership is one of the great strengths of any community,” Bush described a plan compelling in its simplicity. “We will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery,” the President said. “In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.”

    “Something like that would have been wonderful,” Dashiell says. “It would have allowed people who were displaced to have a real stake in the rebuilding. So much of the emphasis has been on people who already owned their homes, but there were so many renters who loved the city dearly and wanted to come back.”

    (Homesteading fought by democrats on the basis of previous failures)

    Congressional Democrats swiftly attacked the plan, documenting its limits in addressing the staggering housing crisis. Democratic Representatives Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, and Artur Davis pointed out that it would have excluded many people left homeless by the storm and would have failed to meet the tremendous need. It would have made 2,000 units available, even though about 900,000 homes were lost or damaged in the storm. In addition, the program would have done nothing to address the vast destruction of rental units, which represented 55 percent of housing lost in New Orleans. Frank, then the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee that he now chairs, called the proposal “substantially inadequate.”

    “Senator Allard believed that the Urban Homesteading initiative was an important component of addressing the housing needs of the Gulf area,”

    But the Administration vehemently objected to the Baker Plan, mostly on ideological grounds. Donald Powell, Bush’s Gulf Coast rebuilding coordinator, detailed those objections in a February 2006 op-ed for The Washington Post.

    The President has “established important principles that will guide the federal role in the response” to hurricane rebuilding, Powell wrote. One of those principles is that “markets must be able to work properly without interference from the government.”

  2. Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (current)


    I. Self Help
    Give residents the tools to rehab and develop their own buildings. When residents take control of their housing, it not only improves buildings and strengthens neighborhoods, it transforms lives.

    II. Democratic Residential Control
    Co-ops are democracies in action. Inclusive, transparent leadership, and the full participation of all residents – enabled by resident education -makes democratic governing possible.

    III.Shared-Equity Cooperative Ownership
    By allowing departing shareholders to recoup the original cost of their shares plus a modest profit we preserve the co-op’s affordability. Buyers forego possible future profits for the immediate financial gain of the low-priced purchase and monthly housing costs. Over 30 years, we’ve seen thousands of low- and moderate-income families embrace the bargain.

    IV. Housing Quality
    Urban housing should be built to last for generations. Our construction and rehabilitation work always exemplifies the highest standards of design, durability, energy efficiency, and environmental consciousness.

    V. Continuous Learning
    Continuous learning is the key to sustaining housing cooperatives. Through its extensive training and technical assistance services, UHAB provides on-going opportunities to both its own staff and co-op residents to increase their knowledge and skills.

  3. NYC Existing Programs (current):

    Division of Alternative Management Programs. DAMP is the section of NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) which develops and sells city-owned property to private owners. The majority of the sales have been to resident co-ops; the remainder have been to non-profit and for-profit groups. Properties sold through DAMP receive certain property tax reductions, benefits which can last up to forty years.

    Housing Development Fund Corporation. This is a special type of limited equity housing cooperative in New York State, incorporated under the New York State Housing Finance Law. Under this law, the city of New York is able to sell buildings directly to tenant or community groups to provide low-income housing. Many, but not all HDFCs, are organized as co-ops. All HDFCs are required to provide housing affordable to low-income citizens.

    The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
    HPD is the mayoral agency of New York City responsible for developing and maintaining the city’s stock of affordable housing. The agency, which is the largest municipal developer of affordable housing in the United States, is currently in the midst of a twenty-year initiative to create and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing. The agency is headquartered in Lower Manhattan, and includes smaller branch offices in each of the city’s five boroughs.

    Limited Equity:
    Restrictions on the equity required to purchase a housing unit, and on the amount a unit can profit in resale from its original sale price. These restrictions keep HDFC housing permanently affordable.

    Third Party Transfer:
    Third Party Transfer. A property disposition program created by New York City in 1996 which allows the city to foreclose on distressed tax-delinquent properties and transfer them directly to a new, more responsible, owner, without taking ownership itself. Buildings with residents interested in this program may work with UHAB, which takes ownership temporarily and helps the residents create an HDFC co-op.

    Tenant Interim Lease program. This is a program of DAMP/HPD in which tenants of city-owned buildings can go through an interim period managing the building while they receive training and support to prepare them for co-op ownership. The city does major capital improvements to the building before the tenants buy their apartments (for the price of $250 each), as part of a limited-equity co-op. UHAB and the Task Force on City-Owned Property worked with the city to create TIL in 1978.

  4. Housing Related Organizations in New York City

    • Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development

    • ANHD’s program and policy work are centered on promoting a progressive, comprehensive housing agenda for New York City’s neighborhoods. Much of our focus is on the creation and improvement of publically-funded housing programs and initiatives which address affordable housing and community development priorities of our members’ neighborhoods.

    • Citizens Housing and Planning Council

    • Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) of New York is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization in which individuals and groups of all points of view work together to bring about intelligent public and private action to improve housing and neighborhood conditions in the City of New York since 1937.

    • Community Service Society
    advocating for increased funding for public and affordable housing; strengthening opportunities for public housing residents; and connecting families faced with housing difficulties to resources and support.

    • Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums

    • Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives

    • Fifth Avenue Committee
    develops and manages affordable housing and community facilities, creates economic opportunities and ensures access to economic stability, organizes residents and workers, offers student-centered adult education, and combats displacement caused by gentrification.

    • Harlem Community Development Corporation

    • Housing Conservation Coordinators
    Housing Conservation Coordinators is a not-for-profit organization based in Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen that seeks to preserve safe, decent and affordable housing.

    • Housing Partnership Development Corporation
    build affordable homes which stimulate economic growth and revitalize neighborhoods throughout New York City’s five boroughs. 1200units/year goal.

    • The Legal Aid Society
    no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty.

    • Make the Road New York

    • Neighbors Helping Neighbors
    empower low and moderate income Brooklyn residents to secure quality housing and build financial assets.

    • Pratt Area Community Council
    first, to preserve and develop safe and affordable housing, a basic human right

    • South Brooklyn Legal Services

    • University Neighborhood Housing Program

    • Urban Justice Center– Community Development Project
    strengthens the impact of grassroots organizations in New York City’s low-income and other excluded communities. We partner with community organizations to win legal cases, publish community-driven research reports, assist with the formation of new organizations and cooperatives, and provide technical and transactional assistance in support of their work towards social justice.

  5. Braden, thanks for uploading and sharing your research, definitions and organizations. Looking forward to see your work tomorrow!

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