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ActivismCommunity & Culture

Put Homeless in Vacant NYC Luxury Apts, Advocates Say

Homeless advocates are trying to get New York City to take over long-vacant luxury apartments to help house the homeless. Leaders in the real estate market are saying ‘no way’, but this is generating some movement forward.

A coalition of community organizations in NYC, Right to the City Coalition, has found that 264 luxury residential developments are sitting vacant around the city. Rather than wasting useful space, the coalition is advocating that these places be taken over by the city and used for housing the homeless.

“It just seems very logical that if these buildings are vacant and they are warehousing them, while we have families living in shelters, living in SROs, these apartments should be taken over by the city through tax foreclosure, like any other building,” said Cerita Parker, a leader with Mothers on The Move, an activist community organization in the South Bronx. “These are homes and we have homeless people.”

Scale of the Vacant Buildings Problem in NYC

“The tax foreclosure process would be a means to transfer them to a non-profit manager. There are 138 buildings that are over a year delinquent,” said David Dodge, coordinator for the Right to the City-NYC Alliance.

“Relying on member organizations such as Make the Road New York and Mothers on the Move, the group canvassed eight city neighborhoods with what members suspected were high concentrations of high end real estate sitting fallow,” Eileen Markey of City Limits Magazine reports.

They found 41 buildings in the South Bronx that are completely or mostly vacant; 50 in Bushwick; 23 in Greenwich Village and Chelsea. The supply doesn’t meet the demand of people in those neighborhoods, according to Right to the City’s calculations: In the South Bronx the average price per condo on the market is $943,514, but the average household income is $19,111. In Bushwick, the average condo is listed at $336,035, with a neighborhood household income of $35,000. Incomes are higher in the West Village and Chelsea, reaching $92,000, but not high enough to afford the area’s $4.7 million average condo price.

Could the City Really Take These Buildings?

The ‘simple’ proposal is that the city take over buildings that are behind on taxes or use eminent domain to take buildings.

Of course, land politics and economics is more complicated than that.

“The call for the confiscating of private property for ideological reasons is the most startling since the Russian Revolution,” senior vice president at The Real Estate Board of New York Michael Slattery says.

In reality, the power of the real estate industry combined with the complexity of the citywide real estate market and severe fiscal constraints facing city agencies and the housing authority make this a very unlikely task.

But that isn’t stopping this coalition of community advocates from pushing for it and hopefully making some good progress in the meantime.

Trying Less Invasive Means

Last year, in an effort to address these two issues — excess housing and the homeless — the city offered developers with empty buildings tax breaks in exchange for dropping rents to levels where moderate-income families could afford to live in the buildings. The developers decided to try to wait out the economic lull rather than drop rents and take the incentives.

Now, the city is looking to start a mandatory, annual, citywide census of vacant buildings. “We want to use this to force other public conversations,” Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito representing the East Harlem district says.

Her and other council members also support a proposed vacancy registration fee in which owners pay a per unit fee ($1,000 of $1,500 is what Right to the City is proposing) for properties held vacant for more than a year. Boston already has such a fee.

Neither of these ideas look like they push the envelope too far to me, but they would apparently be an important starting point according to those who are concerned about the homeless and are trying to negotiate with a very powerful real estate industry.

Image Credit: tanguero (BLOCK, rinse, repeat) via flickr/CC license

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8 comments
  1. steffie

    We already know people are motivated to work for a beautiful place to live, no violence, & a better class of people because it is truly worth it!
    Most work 2 or 3 low wage jobs to live in horrible broken down slums dodging bullets in their sleep. Single people with no issues or addictions would be best, their only problem is lack of steady employment and inability to pay rent no matter how many jobs they have. They are decent people not belonging with mentally ill, drug abusers. exconvicts etc. They are productive, training for and seeking employment with a goal of obtaining their own luxury apartments and a better quality life. Now THAT’S AN INCENTIVE!!!

  2. fencetheborder

    I agree with Jenbob

    I think this was probably proposed by some pro- illegal immigrant who is all for the welfare system and handing out every resource the US has before the illegals turn our country into Mexico pt.2, ie. third world crime ridden lazy country.

  3. Herb

    These "advocates" are promoting theft. It is immoral, unethical, and disturbing. They should open their own homes and/or wallets and leave it at that.

  4. Joe

    I hope I never make "too much" money. Over taxing the rich isn't enough. Lets force them to give away property they are not using. How much "vacant" land is there in the country? Why not just take that too? Charitable acts & forcing others to be "charitable" are not one in the same. Perhaps these will intended groups could focus more on how to promote actual charity, instead of sitting around thinking about who deserves what in an ideological fantasy land.

  5. jenbob

    this is an idiotic idea. it would drive down the prices of the condos. some people actually work really hard to own nice homes to get away from the riff raft. this would teach lazy people that its ok to sit on their ass, have tons of kids, and not work.

  6. Patrick Clarke

    It would be one of the biggest and warmest charity movements of all time. But I can't see it happening. The property owners wouldn't want these apartments which have great future potential being turned into homeless shelters. Also, who's going to pay for that water and electricity? Capital takes precedence over all. Those are the cold hard facts. But I would like to see such a great thing happen for the homeless.

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