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New York Has More Vacant Buildings and Lots Than It Has Homeless People

New York Has More Vacant Buildings and Lots Than It Has Homeless People
Banking on Vacancy

New York City has more than enough vacant space to provide housing for every homeless person in the city, according to a study released yesterday by Picture the Homeless and Hunter College.

The study represents the first effort to catalog New York's vacant spaces, and includes a survey of community districts from all five boroughs, encompassing roughly a third of the city.

Organizers say the very existence of the study is a refutation of City Hall's position, which has been that any attempt to quantify the number of vacancies would be prohibitively expensive.

But using volunteers, Picture The Homeless managed to survey a third of the city for about $150,000, far less than millions City Council members predicted it would cost the city.

"There is space in New York City for every single New Yorker to have a decent place to live," said Owen Rogers, a member of Picture The Homeless.

Tom Angotti, a Hunter Professor and director of the Center for Community Planning and Development, ran the numbers for the study, which identifies two major kinds of vacant buildings: First, there are buildings, often in poorer areas, that have been abandoned by their landlords.

"And then there are a lot of vacant buildings in areas you might be surprised at, that are very classy areas, very high-rent areas," Angotti said. "They're there for speculation. Landlords have consciously held units off the market."

In these areas, ground-floor retail rentals often pay enough to give landlords substantial profits even as they hold the upper floors vacant, waiting for the most profitable conditions to rent to residents, Angotti said.

In Manhattan's Community District 2, which includes Soho, volunteers identified 263 vacant buildings, enough to house 8,109 people.

Of course, the fact that private landlords have more than enough space to end homelessness in New York doesn't mean they're about to turn their luxury lofts over to formerly homeless occupants.

"It's not like there's some law that would let that happen," said Sam Miller of Picture the Homeless. "This is more about changing the conversation, much the same way that Occupy Wall Street has changed the conversation. We've known for a while how many people without homes there are. Now we know how many homes without people there are too."

Some politicians appear ready to start that new conversation. Speaking at a press conference to unveil the study yesterday, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, said the new report shines a light on the city's continuing drift towards becoming a playground for the affluent with no room for the poor or middle class.

"If you gave people easy access to this information, people are going to be pretty shocked at what's not happening as it relates to affordable housing," Stringer said. "This is above all else a political document. This is a document that you must use to shake up the city's political establishment."

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