Housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan 1995
Squatters attempt to defend their building on East 13th Street from an expected attack by the police by blocking the street with overturned cars and trash.

Andrew Lichtenstein

housing

During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s in which New York City lost residents and manufacturing jobs and many landlords abandoned their buildings, there was widespread arson in low-income neighborhoods, including the South Bronx, East Harlem, and Bushwick, Brooklyn, leading to a shortage of affordable housing. This, combined with rising rents, enabled in part through co-op conversion, which permitted landlords to convert their rental apartments into market-rate co-ops or condominiums if they were vacant, contributed to then-record levels of homelessness by the 1980s, only recently surpassed by 2017’s estimated more than 60,000 homeless residents.

Community groups such as the Committee to Save East Harlem opposed the displacement of long-term residents, often people of color, by gentrification while promoting the construction of affordable housing and the restoration of city services to low-income neighborhoods. AIDS activists drew attention to the plight of homeless PWA, who were more likely to get opportunistic infections on the street.

The Lower East Side (also called the East Village) was a flashpoint in conflicts over housing and homelessness in the 1980s and 1990s. The gentrification of buildings like the Christodora drew professionals and even celebrities to the neighborhood, historically home to waves of poor immigrants, including Puerto Ricans and African Americans, who moved there in the 1950s and 1960s. Artists and housing activists had established squats in vacant buildings, restoring the buildings and claiming ownership through sweat-equity and landlords’ failure to pay city taxes for more than 10 years. A large homeless tent encampment and an open-air drug market occupied much of Tompkins Square Park, to the consternation of City officials and some neighborhood residents.

In August 1988, the police attempted to impose a 1 am curfew on the park and to clear it of homeless people; officers incited a riot by surrounding the park and violently charging the crowd, which included bystanders, neighborhood residents, homeless people, journalists, and housing activists. Over the objection of housing activists, the City closed Tompkins Square Park from June 1991-July 1992, officially for restoration but also to prevent homeless people from taking up residence in the park. In May 1995, tensions flared again as police wearing riot gear and using an armored vehicle evicted squatters from two tenements on East. 13th Street.

Housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan 1995
Squatters who were evicted the night before from an abandoned building on East Houston Street sleep on the street in the early morning.

Andrew Lichtenstein

housing Photo

Manhattan, 1988
The Christodora, which was converted in 1986 as a luxury condominium high-rise in Alphabet City, had become a symbol of privilege in the East Village.

Clayton Patterson

housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan 1995
Squatters and their supporters form a protective line in front of their building on East 13th Street after police in riot gear arrived to evict them from their homes.

Andrew Lichtenstein

Housing Photo

Manhattan 1988
Tomkins Square Park riot

Clayton Patterson

housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan, June 1991
Residents, hand-in-hand, surround Tompkins Square Park in a show of solidarity against the forceful closure of the park.

Q. Sakamaki

housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan, May 30, 1995
Police arrested 31 squatters in front of three buildings on 13th Street. Another 20 other people were allowed to leave.

Bill Biggart

housing Photo

Tompkins Square Park, August 6, 1988
An anti-gentrification protester is carried away by police.

Mark Peterson

housing Photo

Manhattan 1988
Tompkins Square Park riot.

James Hamilton

housing Photo

Manhattan 1988
Tompkins Square Park riot.

Clayton Patterson

housing Photo

Manhattan, August 1989
With fellow protesters, Keith Thompson, a homeless activist, wages a protest on Avenue B to demand affordable housing.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan, May 31, 1991
Fearing the coming forceful eviction, Nancy and Jesus, a homeless couple, stay in their encampment in Tompkins Square Park.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Manhattan, December 14, 1989
During the forceful eviction of the homeless from Tompkins Square Park, some of park's residents burn their tents in protest.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Manhattan, December 14, 1989
During his eviction from Tompkins Square Park, a homeless man complains and is roughly arrested.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan, July 1989
Police in riot gear and three undercover officers violently arrest a Tompkins Square Park protester who was reportedly just hitting a trashcan as drum during the protest along Avenue A.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Manhattan, May 27 1991
On Memorial Day, protesters of the Tompkins Square Park movement prepare to confront police along Avenue A.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

Manhattan,1988
Tompkins Square Park riot.

Clayton Patterson

Housing Photo

Manhattan, May 30, 1995
Police arrested 31 squatters in front of three buildings on 13th Street. Another 20 other people were allowed to leave.

Bill Biggart

Housing Photo

Lower East Side, Manhattan, June 02, 1991
St. Brigid's Church holds a Sunday Mass in Tompkins Square Park to oppose the forceful park closure and to appeal for the human rights of the homeless.

Q. Sakamaki

Housing Photo

December 1987
Alphabet City before gentrification

Q. Sakamaki

housing Photo

Manhattan, 1990
An ACT UP demonstration against the New York City Housing Authority.

TL Litt

housing Photo

Manhattan, 1990
An ACT UP demonstration against the New York City Housing Authority.

TL Litt

housing Photo

East Harlem, Manhattan 1984
A demonstration in East Harlem.

Joseph Rodriguez

housing Photo

East Harlem, Manhattan, 1984
A Committee to Save East Harlem anti-gentrification demonstration.

Joseph Rodriguez

housing Photo

East Harlem, Manhattan 1984
A Committee to Save East Harlem anti-gentrification demonstration.

Joseph Rodriguez