Squatters make history in New York

Property, history, and collective claims on the city

by AMY STARECHESKI

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As illegal squatters became cooperative homeowners on New York City's Lower East Side, they strategically used the logic and law of property to turn their homes into commodities. But they did so within limits: individuals can sell their apartments at fixed prices yet also collectively maintain the buildings as low‐income housing, valuing their homes as both a source of individual sustenance and an inalienable resource that ties generations together. As in many indigenous land claims cases, changing property relations produced new forms of personhood and collective peoplehood. How people form collectives to make claims on space shapes who can participate in urban processes. Squatters used history making to constitute themselves as a legitimate group that could claim urban space and steward collectively owned inalienable property.

The defense of Dos Blocos, a squat on 9th Street in New York City, evicted in 1999.
The defense of Dos Blocos, a squat on 9th Street in New York City, evicted in 1999. (Amy Starecheski)