In Rem

I’m working on a post regarding the effort to prevent 7-Eleven from opening on Avenue A and East 11th Street in the Lower East Side, but I have a wicked cold and it’s hard to put my thoughts together right now, so I’m just going to quote Neil Smith again.

A 1982 consultants’ report entitled An Analysis of Investment Opportunities in the East Village captured the City’s strategy precisely: “The city has now given clear signals that it is prepared to aid the return of the middle class by auctioning city-owned properties and sponsoring projects in gentrifying areas to bolster its tax base and aid the revitalization process” (Oreo Construction Services 1982).

The City’s major resource was its stock on “in rem” properties, mostly foreclosed from private landlords for nonpayment of property taxes. [I’ll come back to this in a later post: How it is the City wound up with title to so much land.] By the early 1980s the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development held over 200 such in rem buildings in the Lower East Side and a similar number of vacant lots. With sixteen of these properties, the Koch administration made its first significant foray into the real estate frenzy of gentrification: artists were to be the vehicle.

In August 1981 HPD solicited proposals for an Artist Homeownership Program (AHOP) and the next year announced a renovation project that was to yield 120 housing units in sixteen buildings, each costing an estimated $50,000, aimed at artists earning at least $24,000. Their purpose, the Mayor proclaimed, was “to renew the strength and vitality of the community,” and five artists’ groups and two developers were selected to execute the $7 million program (Bennetts 1982).

While supporting artists portrayed themselves as normal folks, just part of the working class, a population already largely displace from Manhattan who deserved housing as much as anyone else, an artists’ opposition emerged — “Artists for Social Responsibility” — who opposed the use of artists to gentrify the neighborhood. HPD, the mayor and AHOP were untimately defeated by the City Board of Estimates [sic], which refused to provide the initial $2.4 million of public funds (Carroll 1983).

Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier (London/New York: Routledge, 1996) 24.

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