Cluster Site Victory: Homeless People Did That!

Last month, the city revealed that, under threat of eminent domain, it would be purchasing seventeen “cluster site” buildings – slumlord properties where homeless families were being “sheltered” at great cost to the city in apartments that should have been affordable housing – to convert into permanent affordability. 

Media outlets slammed the city for the high price tag associated with these buildings – with good reason. It’s a shame that bad decisions made by mayors past have put us in a position where the only way out is to pay $173 million to irresponsible slumlords. But the city spends $1.8 billion a year to keep homeless people in shelter, so we welcome the city’s decision to start putting real money into ensuring that 468 families – 1200 people! – will have permanent affordable housing.

Lost in this debate is a very important fact: the city didn’t simply decide to do the right thing. Homeless people made this happen. Families living in unspeakably awful conditions made this happen. By building power between homeless “cluster site” residents and the low-income tenants who had been there before the program started, we forced the city to do the right thing.

Picture the Homeless has been organizing in cluster site buildings since 2013, targeting these slumlords in some of these very same buildings that are being purchased. In 2015, we held a “sleep-out” protest on 57th Street outside the ritzy million-dollar home of the slumlord owner currently under fire. As ANHD recently reported, PTH and Banana Kelly successfully built power among these vulnerable families to fight to ensure that these properties will be transferred into responsible nonprofit ownership to ensure permanent affordability.

This is a huge victory for homeless folks, and a big step in changing the game when it comes to how the city deals with homelessness. We also believe that this can be an inspiration for organizing groups that are looking for examples of visionary, effective campaigns that bridge the issues of homeless and non-homeless tenants, and more broadly to the role of grassroots movement in shifting policy and ending injustice. 

As our executive director Mo George said in this great CURBED article, “We’re hoping that the city makes more steps forward to make a real dent in homelessness.”

Whether we get the credit for it or not, homeless people will continue to fight for – AND WIN – big bold changes and significant investments in HOUSING, not shelter.

(Special thanks to Jenny Akchin and Lynn Lewis for messaging & analysis support!)