Is there Life after Abandonment–The Key Role of New York City’s in Rem Housing in Establishing an Entitlement to Decent, Affordable Housing


Heirs to a legacy produced by years of landlord neglect and abandonment, tenants in in rem housing live in conditions that are among the worst in New York City. The same legacy has made the South Bronx a symbol of urban decay for the entire nation and has turned large portions of the urban landscape into barren wasteland. More than 150,000 in rem tenants, mostly low-income, are on the verge of homelessness. Only the plight of the homeless themselves more dramatically reflects the magnitude of the current housing crisis in New York City. While the private real estate sector at one time may have been able to house (however inadequately) low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, it is now clear that it will not and probably cannot continue to do so.

In recent history, major reforms have been achieved through effective political organizing and other forms of pressure which created the public perception that the housing situation was so intolerable as to offend basic notions of human decency. At the turn of the century, expos6s of the horrible filth and squalor in slum housing resulted in such reforms as a building code that prohibited further construction of the airless, lightless, old law tenements. In the 1930s, in the midst of general economic crisis and the reforms of the New Deal, militant activism and other forms of political pressure resulted in the construction of the nation’s first public housing units. Public housing represented a quantum leap forward in the role of government from one of enforcer of housing standards to that of provider of housing. Today, in the mid-eighties, we are again faced with an acute housing crisis that can and must be addressed by major reforms. The leap we must now take is towards a new role for government not only as the provider of housing, but also as the guarantor of an entitlement to decent affordable housing.

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