I read a story in a newspaper published by Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., a well known and very successful real estate attorney. Adam related the story of a group of building squatters that had broken into abandoned buildings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and made them livable enough for small groups. Mr. Bailey banned the word “Squatter” after beginning to work with them, “as they had a right to be living there – brought certain skills to bear.” But there is no explanation of how these squatters “had a right to be living there.” We are told that they broke into the buildings, but just how does that give them the right to be living there? They did certain skills to bear, one being the admitted pirating of electrical power from the light post on the sidewalk out front.
The history of the litigation becomes a little vague. Apparently, the City determined that the buildings should be demolished. The squatters at this point are referred to as homesteaders and the homesteaders had to fend off foreclosure. We are told that the City offered the squatters-homesteaders the chance to buy the building for $1.00 if they would restore the buildings to a legal residence and learn how to run it with a nonprofit organization. It appears that there was a caretaker organization. Was it appointed by the City? The caretaker group sought to evict the homesteaders. An agreement was reached with a developer selected to rehab the building and convert it into a low-income cooperative. In exchange the developer would receive certain zoning benefits for on-or-off-site use and the squatters would be offered a chance to buy shares in the cooperative for their respective apartments. Mr. Leitman Bailey said “in so many ways, this exemplifies the American Dream coming true.” I’m not so sure.