Ours to LoseWhen Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City

Ours to LoseWhen Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City

Amy Starecheski

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226399805

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Though New York’s Lower East Side today is heavily gentrified, it spent decades as an infamous site of blight, open-air drug dealing, and class conflict—an emblematic example of the tattered state of 1970s and ’80s Manhattan. Those decades of strife, however, also gave the Lower East Side something unusual: a radical movement that blended urban homesteading and European-style squatting into something never before seen in the United States. Ours to Lose tells the story of that social movement through a close look at a diverse group of Lower East Side squatters who occupied abandoned city-owned buildings in the 1980s, fought to keep them for decades, and eventually began a long, complicated process to turn their illegal occupancy into legal cooperative ownership. The squatters had made moral and political claims on urban space that, in a rare turn of events, turned into legal rights. These persistent squatters created almost a dozen low-income, limited equity co-operative buildings in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York but also, more intangibly, a sprawling network of chosen family, a history of struggle, a repertoire of tactics, and a story that continues to inspire others to ask: Is it possible to create a space outside of capitalism? Combining oral history and ethnography, Ours to Lose not only tells a little-known New York City story, it also shows how property shapes our sense of ourselves as social beings and explores the ethics of homeownership and debt in post-recession America.