The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Honoring the Many Manifestations of Home

This post was written by Danielle Siegel, our new AVODAH. Stay tuned for most posts from her for the coming year! 

Today is a testament that there are many manifestations of home.

I am a native Californian. I moved to New York City three weeks ago. I began working with UHAB six days ago. And today is my first day being in New York City on 9/11.

UHAB is located within three blocks of the Wall Street subway stop. As you exit the train, a boldfaced sign reads, “9/11 Memorial.” Today, as I disembarked from the train, that sign ignited my memory.  I recalled my whereabouts eleven years ago.

I was elevens years old, and woke up to the shrill of my parents as they attentively watched the morning news.  We sat before the television in disbelief, unwilling to accept that the unimaginable had occurred.  My memory also illustrated my school as a space of silence—as usual, students occupied the hallways, cafeteria, and locker rooms that day, but they all operated in silence. Even three thousand miles away from the collapsed towers, the tragedy was palpable.

But nothing is like being in New York on 9/11.  Walking to my office, I imagined Wall Street on that day. I pictured thousands of people running down the street, paralyzed with trepidation and grief. I pictured debris and ashes dancing through the street.  And, like my school, I pictured silence, but one that demands stillness.

And today, as I proceed down Wall Street, I feel that silence and stillness among the taxis, street vendors, and business folk. Taxi drivers seem more patient. Street vendors seem more engaging. Business folk seem more considerate.   By no means has New York stopped or lost its essence today, but there is a pause in the air– an acknowledgment of 9/11’s tragedy and appreciation for the witnesses that continue to utter its memory.

Today, New York feels more like a community, standing in solidarity not only as survivors of the physical violence of the attacks, but the trauma that subsequently followed. Undoubtedly, that solidarity springs from a common narrative. The uniqueness of being in New York on 9/11 speaks to the threatening of a collective space that we call home. To New Yorkers, the concrete space where the Twin Towers once stood is home; these are the spaces that we spend the majority of our days, indulging in meals, formulating new relationships, enhancing our minds. To threaten our home is to threaten our livelihood. And that, in part, is why we feel the emotional intensity of 9/11.

The solidarity brought about by 9/11 works in conversation with the work I am now engaging with at UHAB—supporting tenants’ right to affordable and quality housing.   As I glance into the coming year, I recognize the importance of a space that we each call home—one that connects us to ourselves and constructs the fabric of our daily lives. Without access to these spaces, our foundations and emotional stability suffer.  However, this is where tenants, like New Yorkers that have lived through 9/11, inspire me– regardless of the injustices they have encountered, they are still willing to wage the battle and continue fighting. As I begin to witness the perseverance of tenants, I feel honored to engage in the battle for stabilized housing.

As the workday comes to a close and our experiences of 9/11 fall back into the backdrop of our minds, I encourage y’all to acknowledge the many manifestations of home as well as the importance of honoring and preserving those spaces.

This post is in honor of the victims and survivors of 9/11. 

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