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UHAB (Urban Homesteading Assistance Board)

Stories of Impact

A group of people holding signs in front of a building.
Courtesy of UHAB

In the early 1970s, amidst the national recession, New York City pulled back on creation of affordable housing as private landlords began to abandon their properties, resulting in compounding impacts on low-income communities of color already impacted by redlining and other racist housing policies.

In response, Don Terner, an MIT professor working in the East Bronx, founded the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) in 1973 to champion cooperative homeownership for low-income tenants across the city. His goal was to enable tenants to turn their buildings into safe, healthy, and affordable homes. UHAB’s work led to the Tenant Interim Lease Program, which allows tenants to buy City-owned properties, then transform them into affordable cooperatives. Since then, UHAB has helped develop about 30,000 units of affordable cooperative homeownership across 1,200+ coops in upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, impacting around 80,000 households.

“Urban homesteading was really about people taking control of the properties that they lived in that had been abandoned and shepherding them as their own,” UHAB Executive Director Margy Brown explained.

Cooperative homeownership starts with [organizing] rental tenants. We hope to be able to support those tenants in taking ownership of their buildings. Margy Brown, Executive Director

Now celebrating its 50th year, UHAB works to ensure that community members can thrive in the places they call home: “Homeownership for low income communities is so powerful in terms of not only the long term housing stability that it brings, but also in the really rich opportunity to have deep community involvement and all of the benefits that traditional homeownership provide,” Brown said. “It is especially critical for elderly residents to be able to age in place with dignity and a sense of security, as many of the tenants we organize tend to be older adults.”

In addition to creating housing co-ops, UHAB also organizes rental tenants to hold negligent landlords accountable for poor housing conditions. With Brooklyn Org’s support, UHAB has been able to organize tenants in “distressed rental situations,” and fight for housing justice. In particular, UHAB’s Defense Fund empowers tenants to seek legal action against landlords, prevent eviction, and demand repairs. “Cooperative homeownership starts with [organizing] rental tenants,” Brown explained. “We hope to be able to support those tenants in taking ownership of their buildings.”

30,000 units of affordable cooperative homeownership across 1,200+ coops in upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn thanks to UHAB's work.

Today, as New York City’s rental crisis reaches a fever pitch, UHAB’s work is more urgent than ever – and is confronting an increasingly uncertain future for tenants. “One of the areas that we’ve really built out in is our climate and resiliency work,” Brown said. Low-income New Yorkers are disproportionately burdened by energy costs and UHAB is focused on connecting these communities to renewable technologies, creating cost-effective and healthier homes,  and making progress on the city’s climate goals.

While UHAB has deep roots in New York City, their work has become a national and international blueprint for cities championing housing justice. And with 50 years of truly system-changing successes behind them, UHAB continues to expand its services and property development. “We’re constantly looking at what gaps we need to be filling,” Brown said. “So much of what we do is supporting tenants and shareholders through the entire [housing] journey.”

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