On a freezing cold night in November, 1988, five people in search of a home cracked open an abandoned City-owned building at 21 Avenue C on New York’s Lower East Side.
Two weeks later they were just three.
That first winter was rough. By the time spring came several more people had been invited in to occupy the building. They decided to stay and began working diligently: they patched and repaired the roof and closed-up the bulkhead; they sealed windows; they began rebuilding damaged masonry. And they removed massive amounts of rubble and debris. Lots and lots of rubble and debris.
They named the building Umbrella House.
In subsequent years more people were invited in to squat Umbrella, and work continued. Joists were sistered, floors layed, a rudimentary electrical distribution was installed, and more than a dozen people called the building their home.
The biggest milestone in the early years of Umbrella House was the installation by the squatters of waste-lines and a water service connected to the City’s water and sewer system.
By 1997 plumbing and electric had been run to all the building’s units, all the apartments were occupied, and over twenty people now lived at Umbrella House.
In the early 2000s the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) approached Umbrella House and ten other squatted buildings on the Lower East Side with a plan to go legal. The members of Umbrella House elected to join this process.
In 2010 Umbrella House formed an Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) and organized itself as a limited-equity co-op that will provide affordable housing at 21 Avenue C for many decades to come.