A few weeks ago, Urban Omnibus published an illuminating interview with Andy Reicher, UHAB’s execultive director since 1981. The interview tells the fascinating tale of building abandonment in the 1970s, and the way that UHAB developed as an organization.
Andy recounts that
In this context of wholesale abandonment, UHAB was founded on the idea that local people are able, with their own hands and some technical assistance, to solve their own housing problems, to stabilize their neighborhoods, and to build up the urban fabric within those neighborhoods… The idea was to work with people who wanted to take over vacant, abandoned housing in New York, turn them into homes, and become owners.
The idea that tenants have a say in determining the future of their buildings has always been one of UHAB’s guiding principles – no matter how radical that may have been – as Andy recounts:
I think engaging residents was a new idea. Engaging communities or neighborhoods in urban renewal projects was already widely discussed. But the notion that residents of multi-family apartment buildings have the capacity to help themselves when it comes to housing needs – that was somewhat unique.
Americans have always built and renovated their own houses, but the idea of renovating apartment buildings was new in the 1970s. Before that, you would just tear a building down if it fell out of use or into disrepair. You wouldn’t do these major gut renovations. That whole idea was new, especially for larger apartment buildings.
In the organizing department, we primarily work with buildings that are not co-ops (yet). Our role at UHAB is borne out of the idea of “engaging residents,” or as we call it around here, “tenant choice.” As Andy mentions in the article, the housing landscape has changed dramatically since the 1970s. New York City is no longer facing a battle of abandonment, but rather the struggle between foreclosure and displacement known as predatory equity.
Though these fights are different than UHAB’s early days, we are still guided very much by the tenant-choice model. Like abandonment in the 1970s, we see foreclosure as a juncture: yes things are bad, but it is also a unique moment in which tenants can forcefully advocate for a say. When we begin organizing in a building, we encourage tenants to think about what they want for their building’s future (through thinking about various models of ownership), and to rally around that.
Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a Right!
To read the full interview, click here!