Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gandhi, Squatters, and Pickles

Admittedly, I've neglected this space a bit in the last few months, but I assure you it's for the best reasons: I've been out covering subcultures for my New Media class, and since subcultures are pretty Fringe, I'll give you one each day for the next few days.

First there was the complex story of Lower East Side Squatters. Six years ago the Urban Homestead Assistance board brokered a deal between the city and and squatters. UHAB bought eleven buildings that had squatters living in them for $1 each under the condition that UHAB would renovate the properties and make them into low-income coops.

The city gave UHAB two years to complete the renovations. Now, six years later, some of the buildings still lack heat and hot water, and only two of the original eleven are even close to becoming coops. On top of that, UHAB took out $5.5 million in mortgages on the buildings to make the repairs, and now the money is dwindling, some buildings are in disrepair, and residents fear that the bank will come knocking.

This piece was difficult to write because squatters are fairly suspicious of outsiders and of the media in particular. My reporting partner, Kenan Davis, and I spend a solid seven days doing extensive shoe leather reporting. We tracked down financial documents for each of the squats, talked to more than 10 squatters, but only succeeded in getting a handful to talk on the record, and dug up one squat's lawsuit against UHAB for alleged mismanagement of funds.

Check out the story on the site...because nothing says "Fringe" better than folks who appropriated their living spaces.

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