The New York Post reported Sunday that a city-funded nonprofit group has been teaching homeless New Yorkers to “homestead” vacant city-owned buildings by breaking into them, establishing residency and hoping the courts will allow them to stay.
“The best time to enter a building is in the late hours,” a Picture the Homeless board member told a group of homeless men and women a few weeks ago. “You make sure you have your proper tools. You remove the chains and padlock, and then you go in.”
The Bronx-based Picture the Homeless, which is run by and for homeless New Yorkers, has collected at least $240,000 in city funding during the last five years, the Post found.
The group’s website offers a 32-page report to justify its activities, blaming “NYC’s laissez-faire free-market strategy for dealing with empty buildings and lots” for the living conditions of homeless New Yorkers.
On January 26, the group held a press conference to launch the report. The event included a supportive speech by Hunter College urban affairs professor Tom Angotti. He said vacant buildings available for homeless invasions include “a lot of buildings in areas that you might be surprised at, that are very classy areas — very high rent … and they’re there for speculation.”
“Landlords have held units — consciously held units off the market,” he complained, renting only their ground-floor retail spaces and “making a killing on exorbitant rents … They’re going to hold on to it until they feel the market’s right, and when they can make a killing on residential rent.”
Kendall Jackman, a Picture the Homeless campaign leader, told the January 26 meeting that three City Council members have helped her organization locate and count vacant apartments and houses.
“There doesn’t have to be anybody homeless,” she said. “There’s enough vacant properties for all of us to have a home.”
On March 15, Picture the Homeless held a “sleep out” protest along with a group of Occupy Wall Street activists. The two organizations camped out in front of the office of a Brooklyn city councilman to demand legislation “returning [vacant] properties to productive use” by the homeless.
Mohammed Hossain, the super of a Brooklyn apartment building where monthly rents range from $600 to $1,000, said homeless people frequently break in to steal pipes and metal fixtures.
“The homeless people, they have no right to be squatting here,” he told the Post. “If they pay rent, that’s different.”
Andres Perez, a former city Housing Authority worker who now leads the “B & E” teach-ins, said one of his organization’s main programs involves teaching the homeless to invade “warehoused” real estate.
“The best properties are city-owned properties or bank-owned properties,” he said. “They warehouse these properties. They’re sitting on them.”
A city government spokesman told the Post that New York City housing agencies “absolutely don’t condone the practice of squatting. It’s illegal, and it’s dangerous.”
A City Council spokeswoman said she was “troubled” to learn that “Picture the Homeless is instructing New Yorkers in how to engage in dangerous and illegal activities.”