Picture the Homeless, a Bronx nonprofit that has received at least $240,000 in taxpayer money in the last five years, is giving a crash course on squatting—and city-owned buildings are a prime target.
Two weeks ago, board member Andres Perez held a teach-in on how to wrest “control” of vacant apartments. He called it “homesteading.”
“The best time to enter a building is in the late hours,” he advised a group of about 20, who gathered in front of the half-empty East New York housing complex Arlington Village.
“You make sure you have your proper tools. You remove the chains and padlock, and then you go in.”
He then led them through the next steps—including filling out a change-of-address form at the post office and setting up utilities. After that, “nine out of 10 times the courts will allow you to be able to have control of the property,” he said.
But squatting school outraged legal residents of Arlington Village.
“I can’t let nobody squat where I live,” said Pete Rolon, 64, a 35-year resident who claimed pimps had grabbed two apartments in the complex. “There were hookers. They were smoking crack. There were condoms all over the floor. There were hundreds of them.”
Police and residents eventually forced the sex-trade squatters out last fall, according to Rolon.
Perez, 46, a former city Housing Authority worker, said the group has “two major campaigns.” One is dedicated to opposing the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. The other involves schooling people about “warehoused” property.
Homesteading, he lectured, is a permanent occupation, while squatting is only temporary “clubhousing.”
“The best properties are city-owned properties or bank-owned properties,” he said. “They warehouse these properties. They’re sitting on them.”
Picture the Homeless’s annual taxpayer funding is approved by the City Council and administered through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
“We absolutely don’t condone the practice of squatting,” said HPD spokesman Eric Bederman. “It’s illegal, and it’s dangerous.”
Bederman added that his agency has no control over Picture the Homeless’s funding. “It’s the City Council’s decision,” he said.