Grassroots Political Action of the ’70s and ’80s

During the 1970s and 1980s, Met Council on Housing focused on the need to increase the supply of decent and affordable housing for low-income families in the city. Met Council on Housing lent support to the Operation Move-In squatter movement, dramatized poor housing conditions in the People’s Court Housing Crimes Trial and opposed the practice of warehousing vacant apartments.

1970 Squatters’ Movement

Factors such as urban renewal, the physical expansion of major institutions like Columbia University, and the lack of sufficient public housing made it very difficult for low-income families to find housing in New York City during the late 1960s. During the summer of 1970, communities responded with a squatter movement which installed over 300 families in vacant apartments across the city. Most of these squatted apartments, frequently slated for demolition in urban renewal areas, were owned by the city or by large institutions. Led by African-American and Latino families, this squatter movement received support from Met Council on Housing in the form of help with repairs, negotiations with landlords and fighting evictions. Squatters succeeded in delaying institutional expansion into Morningside Heights. Some landlords yielded to demands, providing services in squatted apartments and for a few, the right to remain in their new homes. The squatter movement gained significant media coverage, giving exposure to critical housing issues such as urban renewal, property speculation, long-term vacancies and the need for affordable housing.

People’s Court Housing Crimes Trial

Met Council on Housing continued to work to expose the substandard housing conditions faced by low-income families. In December 1970 Met Council on Housing organized the People’s Court Housing Crimes Trial with the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords and I Wor Kuen (a radical Chinese organization). The event brought together a multiracial and intergenerational group of people working on housing issues in New York City. Tenants, squatters and sympathetic city officials testified to an audience of 1,500 at Columbia University about the poor housing available to low-income residents. The testimonies were also heard by a panel of judges representing the Met Council on Housing, the Black Panthers, the Movement for Puerto Rican Independence, the Young Lords, and I Wor Kuen. A 13-count indictment was issued to the City of New York, as well as to the landlords and bank of the city. The People’s Court placed then-Mayor John Lindsay in contempt of court for failing to appear.


As the city rebounded from the 1970s financial crisis, new threats to tenants emerged during the 1980s. Coop conversion allowed landlords to convert their rental apartments into market-rate cooperatives or condominiums. The regulations for coop conversion allowed vacant apartments to be sold at higher costs, increasing the incentive for landlords to “warehouse” vacant apartments in preparation for conversion. By the late 1980s, a New York State survey estimated the between 40,000 and 100,000 apartments were being warehoused annually. Met Council on Housing campaigned for the passage of regulations by City Council to limit the warehousing of apartments. 

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