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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I hate roaches.

My friend had been swindled by drug addicts. She had payed "key" money for a low-income housing apartment in a city-owned building. When she went to take occupancy, the door was padlocked. She contacted management, who told her that things did not work the way she planned - these apartments were for welfare recipients and the needy, not a woman who just needed a cheap apartment. Through a miracle of persuasion (which included crying), my friend obtained a lease for an apartment she was not qualified for at a very low, $125-per-month rent. The place was in a small tenement building, but it was in the heart of the West Village. It was the coup of the century.

I accompanied her on the first visit to her new place. It was disgusting, as would be expected with a place formerly occupied by drug addicts. Nothing, however, prepared us for the bathroom, which was not just roach-infested but where the ceiling was a TAPESTRY of moving cockroaches. So much so that we only peered in to avoid roaches falling on our heads. A roach bomb was required, as well as a cleanup of dead roaches.

At one time, these kinds of opportunities in Manhattan housing were not uncommon. Most remarkable were the SQUATS. In retrospect, squats are almost unfathomable - apartments for the TAKING. Of course, squats are romanticized. Who really has the fortitude to live in horrific conditions for decades? These buildings had the most awful conditions imaginable. But, after the fact, they certainly are the envy of many a New Yorker, particularly those without substantial means.

From the Villager:

The East Village was then full of vacant buildings the city had taken possession of for landlords’ failure to pay property taxes. Many of the properties were severely damaged, needing extensive repairs that would daunt even the most experienced professional contractors. Doing all the work themselves, the squatters were rehabbing the burned-out tenement shells, transforming them into viable living quarters, bringing life back to desolate blocks.

In a series of high-profile clashes — particularly on E. 13th and E. Fifth Sts. — the city forcibly evicted many of the squatters in the 1990s. But in 2002, City Hall took a radically new approach: Eleven of the 12 remaining East Village squats were sold for $1 apiece to the nonprofit Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. Under the agreement, the squatters, with UHAB’s guidance, would bring their buildings up to code within one year, then buy them — for just $250 per apartment — and the buildings would become permanently affordable, Housing Development Fund Corporation, or H.D.F.C., co-ops.

The deal between the squatters and the city was historic, making headlines around the world. Now, more than six years later, a number of the 11 squats are set to undergo formal conversion to co-ops in the next few months. All of them should be converted in 18 months to two years, according to UHAB.

Similarly, although not a squat, my friend also took possession of her apartment; the building was purchased from the city by the tenants for a nominal sum of money and turned into a co-op. Each tenant purchased his or her apartment at an extraordinarily low price. The coup of the century got even better.

I recently met Mike Kennedy at a concert in Tompkins Square Park. He currently lives in one of the landmark East Village squats at 733 East 9th Street, one of the properties ceded over by the city to the tenants in 2002 for $1. It has been a long road for them, and whatever "windfall" they may have received was well earned. I am sure that on their long and winding road, there must have been many ROACHES :(

Related Posts: That's What You Pay For, Mike Fontana Part 1, Old New York Part 2, Listen to the Birds, The Feeling Passes, Every Inch Has a Price, A Place Called Home, Washington Square North


Leslie said...

The City owns 40% of all our apts for the first 25 years of the program. After that I could sell, splitting the value of sale with the tenants association. It's certainly worth the $200 that the rent was raised to when we purchased our 'shares.' It's a tiny studio, but it gets lots of sunshine and there's trees in the backyard. The association is now renting out vacated studio apts for $1750...considered under market for the area. I can't imagine paying that for such a small space.

But oh man, I'll never forget those roaches!

Ylenia said...

Oh, I love NYC and I like so much your blog! ;)

♥ Ylenia ♥

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Jimmy said...

Doesn't sound like a bad place to be. Although, yes. Roaches = one of the worst pests. I've always been scared not to get roaches, ants or anything of the kind.

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Chelsea J said...

Holy crap-- NO! I cannot deal with that many roaches in one space. I already go crazy with the spray and stomping when I see one in the kitchen. This is why I often joke I'm going to move to Long Island-- no roaches there. New Yorkers have to be tough outside and at home. -_-