Squatters say a few bad apples have to leave

By Lincoln Anderson

Residents in some of the East Village squatter buildings being converted into limited-equity co-ops want to evict individuals from a handful of apartments, charging they are “troublemakers” not participating in the renovation or running of the buildings.

In an historic deal, after three years of negotiations with the Giuliani administration, in 2002 the city allowed 11 city-owned abandoned East Village buildings — home to over 200 squatters — to be purchased for $1 each by the nonprofit Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. Under the agreement, UHAB is helping the residents renovate the buildings and bring them up to code, after which they will become limited-equity affordable co-ops owned and run by the tenants.

A UHAB representative as well as several of the former squatters appeared at Community Board 3 meetings last month to explain why some evictions are needed.

UHAB’s Marina Metalios said each building has a homesteader organization made up of the residents, who make decisions on what actions to take. According to Metalios, the homesteader groups have asked that somewhere under 10 tenants — whom she described as “troublemakers” and “non-participants” — be evicted.

Metalios said in one apartment where the residents are a mother and two sons, the older son is charged in a shooting on Avenue C in which the victim later died.

“That building is petrified of him,” Metalios said.

In another apartment, a squatter who had been accepted by the homesteader association died. He had had a medical condition and was so poorly cared for by the apartment’s other tenants, one of whom still lives there, as to raise serious concerns, she said. Plus, she added, the apartment is “a disaster” and the current tenant hasn’t done any “sweat equity” — renovation work on the building.

Three of the squatters appeared before Board 3’s full board meeting last month to say they had to make the tough choice of kicking out people who are dragging the buildings down.

“When it gets to be too much — there’s nothing we can do,” one said, with a shrug.

However, Lower East Side activist Susan Howard is troubled by the threatened evictions. Speaking at Board 3’s Housing Committee last month, Howard spoke on behalf of a man she knows who is facing being kicked out, and also criticized UHAB for raising the squatters’ monthly house dues.

“Just because your neighbor said something against you is no grounds for eviction,” Howard said, warning, “this is just the beginning.”

Howard said the former squatters were promised by UHAB that their monthly house dues would be only a few hundred dollars, but now some are being told $1,200 — “and to start paying immediately.”

None of the residents has a lease.

However, Metalios said, while in fact, a tenant in one unit will be asked to pay $1,200 monthy maintenance after the renovations when the building becomes a co-op, it is in a building where the number of units has gone from 20 to seven as the apartments have been combined and made larger, and that the tenant is O.K. with paying this amount.

“I’m not getting now from that resident or that building that they can’t live with it,” Metalios said of the fees.

In general, she said, the residents have been asked to increase their monthly fees from $50-$75 up to $200.

Of Howard’s accusations, Metalios said she knows Howard and respects her community activism.

“Susan focuses on the individual,” she said. “UHAB focuses on the group.”

The homesteader associations in from five to eight buildings have approved their buildings’ renovation costs, and UHAB is closing on loans for five of the buildings now, and will do so for the rest by summer or early fall, Metalios said.

The renovations are expected to cost from $210,000 to $600,000. She added, though, that she’s concerned about the costs in two buildings — one needs an elevator, the other has damage from two fires.

In general, the renovations of the former squats are expected to take from six to 20 months.

After the renovations are completed, limited-equity co-op corporations will be formed and the redisents will be able to buy their apartments for $250 each. No subleasing will be allowed and apartments must be sold back to the co-op at a low profit in order to assure they remain as affordable housing.

The more tightly organized buildings are moving faster toward finishing renovations and tenants gaining ownership of their apartments, the project director said.