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Guide to the Squatters' Collective Oral Histories Project OH.068

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Heather Mulliner in consultation with David Olson. Interview descriptions provided by Amy Starecheski.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 08, 2019
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Anna McCormick for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description  , October 2019

Historical/Biographical Note

The Squatters' Collective Oral History Project was initiated by Tamiment Library in 2008 as a larger effort to document the squatters' movement in New York City. In 2008 Jeremy Sorgen, and undergraduate student at New York University, conducted seven oral history interviews on behalf of the Tamiment Library. The project was later continued by Amy Starecheski who conducted an additional thirty-seven interviews as research for her Ph.D. dissertation in Cultural Anthropology at the City University of New York, which focused on squatting and the transformation of squats into limited equity, low-income co-ops.

The history of squatting in New York City can be traced back to the nineteenth century, but the movement documented by this oral history project began as an outgrowth of an economic and housing crisis in the 1970s. Reacting to a lack of affordable housing and displacement caused by urban renewal projects, a number of city residents sought alternative housing by occupying vacant buildings in the city. Squatters in New York City were a diverse group that included bohemian artists, activists, undocumented immigrants, and displaced locals, among others. Throughout the 1990s, building owners and city officials worked to evict many of the squats, and while many were torn down or reclaimed by the city, squatters staged a number of successful efforts which allowed them to remain in their buildings. By the end of the 1990s, a number of squatters who still retained control of their buildings approached the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), a non-profit organization dedicated to converting city-owned buildings into low-income cooperatives, in an attempt to establish legal ownership of their homes. Over the years that followed, squatters in the Lower East Side began negotiations with UHAB and eventually reached a deal in 2002, which allowed UHAB to acquire eleven buildings that would eventually be sold back to residents once they were renovated and brought up to code. Many of the squats struggled to complete renovations to their buildings, however, and as of 2013 only five of the eleven buildings completed the legalization process.