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Report on Manhattan Vacant Property Count

 “Picture the Homeless” is excited to announce the release of our brand-new report, Homeless People Count , documenting the results of our historic Vacant Building & Lot Count.
 In 2006, in collaboration with the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, we went up and down every single block in Manhattan to quantify the volume of vacant property going to waste in the middle of the worst housing crisis the city has ever seen. The results of that count are contained within this report, and they were shocking even to us—and we’ve been talking about abandoned buildings for years!


To download the full report, click here: Homeless People Count .
At 4.5 MB it's a large document, but worth the slightly longer download time when you see the stunning design and compelling visuals (special thanks to Trinidad M. Pena of Impact Design Graphics , who designed the report). And the hard copy is even more impressive and include your mailing address, and we'll send you a copy.

This report details not only the results of our count, but also the process by which the count was developed, and the potential of participatory research projects to become organizational victories in the process of winning social change. We believe that the findings of our count illustrate the urgent need for new laws and policies to stop landlords and the city from keeping buildings empty, and to really create housing for low-income New Yorkers out of these properties.

An abandoned building count is not a new idea; many other cities have employed this tactic as a first step towards creating substantive policy solutions to deal with property vacancy. In Boston, for example, the total number of abandoned buildings has decreased by 67% since the survey began in 1997—from 1,044 to 350 buildings. While some of that decline is due to an overall upswing in the real estate market, city officials have stated that quantifying and publicizing the extent of the problem led to the creation of the public will necessary for the city administration to implement new policies and funding streams for the conversion of these economic sinkholes into functioning residential buildings.


VACANT PROPERTY CAN COMPLETELY ERADICATE HOMELESSNESS IN NYC.  The total volume of empty housing units in abandoned buildings exceeds the number of homeless households in shelter and on the street! 24,000 potential apartments can be developed out of all those properties going to waste. As of April 17, 2007, there are 16,000 homeless households living in shelter—about 9,000 families and 7,000 single adults. NYC's HOPE 2006 count of the "unsheltered homeless" indicated a citywide street population of 3,843. While we believe that this number is dramatically lower than the actual street population, even if the City's count was off by 98.7%—meaning the street homeless population is twice as high as officially acknowledged—there are still enough potential apartments in Manhattan to house every homeless person in the shelters and on our streets.

PROPERTY ABANDONMENT TARGETS COMMUNITIES OF COLOR.  The neighborhoods with the highest volume of empty buildings are primarily inhabited by households of color. For example, Community Board 10—Harlem—has 552 vacant properties, while Community Board 7 (the Upper West Side) has only 73. Community Board 11—Spanish Harlem—has 387 empty buildings and lots, while Community Board 8 (the Upper East Side) has 88. Community Boards 10 and 11 are also the neighborhoods with the highest percentage of households of color (98% and 92.7%, respectively), and the Manhattan neighborhoods from which the most families enter the city shelter system.

VACANT PROPERTY AFFECTS EVERYONE.  Every year, an overwhelming amount of money is lost as a result of property abandonment. Blocks with boarded-up buildings experience two to three times as many police calls for violent offenses as blocks in the same neighborhood without vacant property. Homes near abandoned buildings experience a net loss of more than $7,000 in value. Not only is money spent as a result of abandonment, considerable revenue is lost through the taxes and utilities that could be generated. We believe that vacant properties contribute to the NYC housing crisis and to homelessness. In 2005, New York City spent $709 million to provide shelter to 97, 039, with an average shelter population of 34,000 a night.

INCENTIVES TO ABANDONMENT REMAIN.  Many city policies encourage landlords to keep their buildings empty, either directly or indirectly. As neighborhoods gentrify, many speculating landlords choose to keep buildings empty so that they can rent them at a future date and charge far higher rents—instead of renting the units out now, and becoming saddled with poorer tenants. 1996 changes in the rent stabilization code broadened the scope of renovations that landlords could do to move a building out of rent stabilization, which would mean that in the process of opening up a sealed building, all units would almost automatically come out of stabilization. Particularly common with properties designated as landmarks or as historic, "demolition by neglect" is a way of circumventing legislation aimed at building preservation. Landlords let buildings deteriorate, hoping that courts will rule that they can't be rehabilitated.

CURRENT CITY "SOLUTIONS" SPEED UP GENTRIFICATION.  Mayor Bloomberg's much-hyped "New Housing Marketplace" plan is creating tens of thousands of units of "affordable housing," but this housing is not affordable to poor New Yorkers. Federal guidelines for affordable housing targets households with an annual income at 90% of Area Median Income. In New York City, where AMI for a family of 4 is $70,900, families making $56,000 are eligible for "affordable" housing, which means they are in direct competition for scant housing resources with the working poor—a full-time minimum wage worker makes approximately $14,800 per year, or 20.9% of AMI. In reality, due to the way "affordability" is configured, every government program that provides money for affordable housing in the low income neighborhoods most in need of housing development will result in housing for income brackets much higher than the traditional demographic for a given neighborhood.

LEGISLATIVE AND POLICY CHANGES ARE NEEDED!  We need significant changes in housing policy to develop real housing out of empty property. Our core demands include: Creation of a regular citywide census of vacant buildings and lots. Empowerment of NYC Department of Buildings to expand the Building Code concerning "nuisance" buildings, to declare unoccupied buildings "nuisances" on the grounds that they are "detrimental to the life or health" of the community at large, including homeless people. Empowerment of NYC HPD to levy an annually-increasing fine against non-compliant landlords in an amount equivalent to the current cost of bringing the building online. Development of a mechanism by which DHS-funded shelter residents can "opt out" of shelter and into housing, with a portion of the money currently being paid by the City to their shelter being used to rehabilitate empty buildings. Amendment of NYC Rent Stabilization guidelines to ensure that when these properties are brought back online, previously-rent-stabilized units, which typically lose their stabilization as a result of their vacancy, will revert to stabilized status.