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New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative January 2016 Update

08 January 2016

Dear NYC REIC Members, 

Happy 2016! The first newsletter of the new year focuses on our Governance! Read on for ways to get involved as we build our cooperative and formalize our structure.


Scroll down for opportunities to help by facilitating upcoming meetings, making calls to remind members about upcoming events, helping with our member data management and joining workgroups.


You can sign up here and complete your membership process IN PERSON on Thursday, January 28, at 6pm or 8:30pm at New Middle Collegiate Church, 2nd Ave and 7th Street, in the East Village in Manhattan. You will be an active member once you have done these three things:

(1) Read and signed the member agreement (in person or online);

(2) Contributed a membership fee of $10 (in person); and

(3) Attending a quarterly All-Member NYC REIC meeting (next chance: January 28, 2016!).

You will then be expected to conduct yourself in accordance with the principles of cooperation. Active members only can participate in Workgroups and the Steering Committee and make nominations, as described below.


REIC U (the Case Studies Workgroup) is doing incredible research into best practices that can be applied to your nascent social justice-driven real estate investment projects as well. Scroll down for a detailed report-back.


Our next steps will be to elect a Steering Committee and finalize its Charter. 

What is the Steering Committee?

The Steering Committee will be NYC REIC’s first democratically elected governing body. It will help govern the REIC and act on our behalf while steering our work on a longer-term governing structure. As part of this work, it will be responsible guiding the REIC to the point where we put in place a permanent governing body (such as a Board of Directors). The NYC REIC opened the nominations for Steering Committee on January 5th, and we will hold elections for those seats at our next General Meeting on January 28th. Members can nominate themselves or other members here.

Please come to the Meet the Candidates meeting to hear directly from nominees for the Steering Committee - and for a last chance to make nominations - on Thursday, January 14th at 6:30-8:00 pm, at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on the 6th floor. 

What is the Charter?

The Charter is a short document defining the rights and responsibilities of the Steering Committee. It states, for instance, whether the Steering Committee will be able to sign contracts on behalf of the REIC, whether they will be able to spend money collected by the REIC, and whether they will be empowered to file the necessary documents with the State to form the REIC as a business entity. It also specifies how the Board will be established, or if the Steering Committee is required to bring this decision to back to the membership. Governance has presented a final draft Charter, and we invite all members to continue to provide final comments!

How will this all come together?

Here’s how the process will work:

  • ONLINE, January 5: The Governance Workgroup integrated feedback from the December 14 meeting into a draft of a Charter and sent it to all members for final objections. HERE IS THE FINAL DRAFT. Click to read it.

  • ONLINE, January 5: The nominations period for the Steering Committee has opened.

  • IN PERSON, January 14: We will hold a “Meet the Candidates” meeting on Thursday, January 14th at 6:30-8:00 pm, at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on the 6th floor. On this night, we will incorporate final comments to the Charter so that it can be put into place, meet candidates for the Steering Committee nominated through the online form (here) and make floor nominations for new candidates. Nominees can accept their nominations, knowing what will be in the Charter.

  • IN PERSON, January 28: We will hold elections for the Steering Committee and ratify the Charter at our next General Meeting on Thursday, January 28, 6:30-8:30pm at New Middle Collegiate Church, 2nd Ave and 7th Street, in the East Village in Manhattan.

MEMBERS! Please come to the January 14 and January 28 meetings, as your involvement is crucial to the success of this work! This is a huge step for REIC and the result of a huge amount of effort and input from many of us, particularly the members of the Governance Workgroup. Many thanks to Governance and everyone who has participated in this process!


Can you volunteer to come early or stay late to set up, clean up, sign NYC REIC members in, and sign new members up to join? We need members to volunteer to help at the following times:

Thursday, January 14, 5-7pm at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

Thursday, January 14, 7-9pm at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

Thursday, January 28, 5-7pm at 2nd Ave and 7th Street in Manhattan

Thursday, January 28, 7-9pm at 2nd Ave and 7th Street in Manhattan

If you can sign up, email with the date and time as the subject line. THANK YOU!


Calling other REIC members is fun! Have a few minutes to spare this month? Want to wish lovely folks you are getting to know a happy new year? Give them a call on the phone to remind them about the key upcoming meetings on January 14 and 28. Directions are here.



If you are interested in getting involved in our work, please come to our next meeting on January 21, from 7-9 pm, at 139 Fulton Street, in Manhattan (Apt. 903). Please contact Leland at to post on a topic specific to your workgroup or anything else related to the REIC in the NYC REIC blog.


The Governance Workgroup held a very well attended all-member meeting on December 14 to discuss what the Steering Committee’s rights and responsibilities should be. Based on this feedback, Governance has presented a draft Charter, and we invite all members to continue to provide additional comments! Please send us your thoughts, questions, and insights at


We could still greatly use some more technical help to join our crew - we're looking for someone who has great data / web skills. Ideally you're great at using CMSes with a solid grasp of HTML/CSS under your belt, have a good understanding of data formats (CSVs, JSON, etc.), maybe some familiarity with databases and web development, even? We really want to make sure we have good systems in place for communication, decision-making and tracking our input. Email with the subject PHONE TREE if this is you!


Case Studies began the month of December with a brainstorming meeting in pursuit of a new educational tool for REIC U that will highlight promising governing structures for the REIC and deal with other important questions, like mechanisms for keeping commercial space permanently affordable and for addressing systemic injustices through our structure and practices. To make this pursuit easier, members broke off into different research tracks in preparation for the month of January, some of which are highlighted below.

As part of their research, the facilitators of Case Studies and the Interim Facilitation work group attended a Skype session with Seth Leon from the Alberta Community and Co-operative Association, who gave the REIC a great range of ideas for governance structures, membership engagement, and financial mechanisms (more on ACCA’s work can be found here:, and the audio from this session can be found here: Audio Link).

Members spent the rest of the month pursuing additional investigation tracks in preparation for the January 7 meeting, where we shared the findings of our research and continued to brainstorm our next REIC U educational tool. New members are welcome to join! To reach Case Studies Workgroup by email:

PBIG (Public Buildings Inventory Group & Community Outreach)

During the month of December, we continued to divide tasks among ourselves and the properties we have continued to consider feasible for potential REIC projects, in Jamaica, Coney Island and the South Bronx, as well as looking into other potential properties. We have been planning our best routes of community outreach, conducting further research, and connecting with the relevant government agencies.

PBIG made a strong showing at the Governance meeting in December, and then held its own meeting just before Christmas to plan our next steps in the new year. We hope to have a joint meeting with the Case Studies workgroup soon.

We are holding our next meeting just prior to the Meet the Candidates meeting, between January 11-13, TBD. If you would like to get involved, please email us at:

One more note:

A shout-out and a big thank-you are due to Urban Cartographies for a generous donation to Spaceworks, Inc. to support the expenses incurred by the NYC REIC in its incubation!


Become a Member of NYC REIC

There are 4 requirements for active membership in NYC REIC:

(1) Reading and signing the member agreement;

(2) Contributing a membership fee of $10;

(3) Attending a quarterly All-Member NYC REIC meeting (next chance: January 28, 2016!);

(4) Endeavoring to conduct membership in accordance with the principles of cooperation.

Check out our Calendar:

We maintain a Google Calendar with all workgroup meetings. Please add this to your gCal, or look at to stay updated with our meeting times:  

Please Help Cover our Current Operating Expenses!
You can support REIC’s development by making a charitable donation during this incubation period for very basic expenses, like the monthly charges that must be paid to circulate this e-newsletter. Please contact us at if you’d like to make a charitable contribution (not an investment) during the incubation period of the NYC REIC. 

REIC Learn and Share

What the REIC? Check Out Our Video:

Please take a minute, literally, to check out this amazing video that NYC REIC members produced to explain the REIC in under 60 seconds, and share widely.


Stay connected:  

If you add to your email contacts, this newsletter will come directly to your primary inbox instead of your promotions inbox or your spam folder. Also, if you're interested in helping with this newsletter, please drop us a line at

Join our mailing list for bi-weekly newsletters:

Join the FaceBook group:

Learn more online:

Come to a meeting:

In Cooperation,  

New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative

Our 2016 Policy Recommendations

06 January 2016

596 Acres advocates for community access to land for open space projects as well as for housing, work space, cultural production, retail and other neighborhood needs.


We believe the Community Land Trust (CLT) model is a great tool to put residents in charge of how precious urban land resources are distributed and how these resources can be permanently protected from speculation. New York City already has organizations that hold land and function as CLTs: the Cooper Square Community Land Trust and the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust are just two.


596 Acres is a member of the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), building capacity for CLTs to hold land for housing the most vulnerable, protecting our precious open space and stewarding places for key neighborhood institutions to thrive and bring vibrancy, vitality and recirculating wealth to our communities. For 2016, we invite you to consider community land access for gardens, parks and community farms in context of these broader goals.


596 Acres adopts NYCCLI’s housing and community development policy recommendations for New York City for 2016.

  1. Incorporate the following core principles into all new and existing programs:

  • Affordability for low- and extremely-low income households. Current methods for developing affordable housing shut out those most in need.

  • Permanent affordability that can be enforced. We must ensure that the resources we spend today on affordable housing keep working many decades from now.

  • Community-led planning, development, and preservation to maximize the provision of stable housing for New Yorkers excluded from the housing market.

  • Fair Housing. Equal opportunities to access affordable housing for all New Yorkers.

2. Re-define “affordable.” Current methods of calculating affordability are based on the Area Median Income (AMI) for New York City and some of its wealthy suburbs, as defined by the Department of Housing & Urban Development. As a result, most “affordable” housing is not, in fact, affordable to many New Yorkers, including people who are homeless, low-wage workers, or those living on fixed incomes. The City should instead calculate affordability based on the lower of  the median income in a Community District where a project is located or the AMI.

3. Use city-owned property as a resource to promote housing development and preservation for the lowest income New Yorkers. City-owned property is the single most valuable resource to create housing for low- and extremely-low income people. The City has a critical responsibility and opportunity to prioritize the disposition of city-owned vacant properties for truly affordable housing:

  • Prioritize CLTs for disposition of city-owned properties.

  • Ensure that housing created on formerly city-owned properties is and will remain affordable to the existing residents of the neighborhood.

  • Issue a moratorium on the disposition of city-owned properties in East Harlem and other communities with existing or actively developing CLTs. These properties, both vacant and occupied, could form critical components of these new CLTs.

4. Establish a Vacant Property Registry and Count. Vacant properties, which frequently remain empty and contribute to neighborhood blight while owners wait for development opportunities, could be used for affordable housing and other community uses. The City does not currently have a database for tracking vacant properties and is unable to develop an appropriate plan for addressing vacancy.

  • A vacant property registry and count should include the requirement that property owners and mortgage-holders register vacant property with the City and state a reason for the vacancy. Escalating fines for failure to register which, if left unpaid, will become liens that the City can enforce through in rem foreclosure and transfer to third parties, such as CLTs.

  • The registry should be published on Open Data NYC.

  • The City should create a community reporting mechanism to enable the public to report vacant properties in their communities.

  • Prioritize census/property count in neighborhoods with high concentrations of vacancy.

  • Develop programs to restore vacant properties to active uses that contribute to the supply of affordable housing for low income New Yorkers and to community resources.

5. Use the Third Party Transfer program to create and preserve permanently affordable housing for very low income people and community resources.

  • Prioritize CLTs and nonprofit developers for TPT and require permanent affordability for buildings moving through the program.

  • Broaden the pool of properties in TPT to include non-distressed properties.

  • Use the Alternative Enforcement Program to cluster troubled buildings by neighborhood and transfer them to CLTs.

6. Divert funds currently spent on emergency shelter to permanent housing. Currently, the City spends more than $3,000 per month to shelter a homeless household. This is five to six times average operating costs for a non-profit rental apartment, and the money often creates significant profits for private shelter providers. A subsidy program for housing in permanently affordable apartments should be developed to improve the efficiency and use of these funds.

7. Refrain from approving rezonings without significant, enforceable anti-harassment protections in place.  

8. Create a housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream to support the creation and preservation of permanently affordable housing for the lowest income New Yorkers. We must invest more in housing for New Yorkers who are most in need of housing and have the least political capital. To address this gap, the City should create a housing trust fund, supported by a dedicated revenue stream generated by increasing the property taxes on vacant and luxury properties.

9. Clarify tax assessment policy for land owned by a CLT and improvements on that land. Ensure that people and entities leasing land from a CLT are not taxed on the value of the land.


Gardens Being Transferred to NYC Parks!

29 December 2015

The following gardens formerly on HPD land are being transferred to the NYC Parks Department:


West 111th Street Harlem Garden (Electric Ladybug)** (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)(covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Henry Garnet Garden (Harlem Grown) (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1(covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Harlem Valley Garden** (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1) (covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Casa Frela Sculpture Garden**

Siempre Verde Garden** (covered in The Lo-Down on December 30, 2015 and Bowery Boogie on January 4, 2016).


Chestnut Street Garden**

Ashford Teaching Garden**

Ashford Variety Garden**

South Brooklyn Children's Garden**

Pirate's Cove Community Garden**

Java Street Garden**

Saratoga BSCAH Urban Farm**

451 Bedford Avenue Garden (La Casita Verde)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Patchen Community Square (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Halsey Ralph Howard Community Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

462 Halsey Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Willoughby Avenue Garden (Tranquility Farm)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Evergreen Lots Garden (El Garden)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Student Farm Project (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Ten Neighbors/Saratoga Blake Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Green Valley Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Imani II Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Isabahlia Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Brownsville Community Farm / James McKeather Garden

Prophecy Garden Church of God

President Street Garden** (covered in DNAinfo on January 5, 2016)

East 43rd Street Block Association Garden

Hattie Carthan Herb Farm

Her-King Alagantic Garden

Positive Seeds of Life Garden

Surfside Garden

Pagan's Garden


McKinley's Children Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)


Libertad Urban Farm

Rincon Criollo

Havemeyer Garden

This is great news. Lots of gardens that were threatened with becoming housing development sites through the Request for Qualifications issued by NYC HPD early this year are on this list and now protected. Sites that were at risk are listed here: (three remain threatened: New Harvest in Brooklyn; Jackie Robinson and Pleasant Valley in Harlem).

This raises the tally of sites now protected as Parks Gardens that were created through 596 Acres' facilitation from **8 to 25**. The ones in our network on the list above have ** next to them.

Some general press coverage: 

Hyperallergic (January 8, 2016) 

CityLimits (January 4, 2016)

Brooklyn Deep (January 4, 2016)

DNAinfo (December 31, 2015)

Capital New York (December 30, 2015)

And some legal context:

Can a New York City agency just tell me that my group can't use the lot anymore after we put work into it?

If the site belongs to the city and has a GreenThumb license, Parks Department regulations require GreenThumb to provide your group with an alternate site as long as one is available either within 1/2 mile of the existing garden or within your Community District. This rule applies to any City Agency site (Housing Preservation and Development, Parks & Recreation, etc.).

For sites that are under the Parks Department's jurisdiction or otherwise considered "parkland" by the public, the City Agency also needs to get approval from the State Legislature to turn the site into something other than open space. The law that makes this approval necessary is called the "public trust doctrine." If your group signs an agreementment that explicitly states the site is for "interim use," it's not likely that public trust doctrine will apply. The City Agency will be able to assign another use without state approval, but will still need to provide your garden group with an alternate site if one is available.

596 Acres in 2015: Our Annual Report!

04 December 2015

With your support, we have had an amazing year. Click here to read about 2015 and please continue to support community land access advocacy by donating online or by check

City Council Hearing Today on Proposed Urban Agriculture Advisory

03 December 2015

The New York City Council Committee on Economic Development is holding a hearing at 1pm today at 250 Broadway on the 14th Floor on a proposed bill that would create an Urban Agriculture Advisory Committee to advise on "matter[s] relating to agriculture in the city, including the identification of existing and potential agricultural food production sites, opportunities to increase local agricultural food production, impediments to local agricultural food production, and urban agriculture training programs and expansion thereof." 

Paula Z. Segal will be testifying for 596 Acres, commending the bill and urging the creation of another mechanism empowered to address the disposition of public land specifically. You can read Paula's full testimony here. 

An exerpt: 

The universe of activities that can be defined as “urban agriculture” is broad, spanning from neighbor­tended community gardens, to production farms, to goats being used instead of pesticides to keep the weeds down. What unites urban agriculture practitioners is the need for space to practice: land access is fundamental to any community­based or entrepreneurial agriculture activity. Land disposition for municipal real estate may need its own focused committee to address a multiplicity of community needs, not just the needs of urban agriculture practitioners. I urge that such a committee be created, and focused on land disposition.

The Urban Agriculture Advisory, as proposed today, will be a great collaborator to practitioners of urban agriculture no matter the underlying ownership of the land. There are regulatory and collaborative hurdles for programs that a cross-­sector advisory with members of City Agencies will be well­ positioned to address.

The land access issues are more complex, and I believe they require greater focus and collaboration with other community advocates working on the development of permanently community­controlled affordable housing, of parks, and of other community facilities. Such a committee could be charged with studying the entire municipal real estate inventory, altering the process through which the Department of Citywide Administrative services assigns land to agencies that frequently then hold it with no development for decades, and assessing the “surplus” real estate auction through which our public lands and buildings are currently regularly offered for purchase by private developers.

Community Boards in 2015!

16 November 2015

In 2015, 596 Acres continued its crucial outreach project to city community boards, teaching critical skills and raising awareness about their role in expanding public access to vacant properties. Thanks to a grant from the New York Community Trust, 596 Acres was able to meet multiple times with seven community boards, paying particular attention to those with the most vacant, public land. We shared our district-specific vacant property maps and our New York City Advocate’s Guide to Land Access, introduced community board members to the neighbors spearheading projects in their districts, and worked with board members and residents to improve communication around local public space initiatives. 

bronx 12 photo.JPG

Bronx Community Board 12; photo by Paula Z. Segal for 596 Acres.

We brought vital information about the threat that a new Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) infill program launched in 2015 posed to existing gardens and the key ecosystem services they provide. We also informed community boards that, as of February 2015, HPD has ceased issuing interim use licenses for lots in its jurisdiction, reserving all land for prospective housing development, no matter the local conditions or the appropriateness of particular parcels being used for housing. 

HPD had not, we learned from our conversations with Board members, informed these community boards about how their new programs would impact their neighborhoods. 596 Acres providing current information about the city’s plans for public land in the districts was a key to having district planning boards know about the plans. Having information about upstream changes in City land disposition strategies meant that community boards could engage effectively. In Brooklyn Community District 5, for example, where HPD has suddenly stalled the licensing 743 Blake Street through the Parks Department GreenThumb program after a two-year neighborhood organizing campaign, we recommended that the district’s Parks Committee take the cause to HPD directly – part of our larger strategy to engage community boards in more public space advocacy to elected officials and City agencies. 

We also found that community boards were hampered by general misconceptions about city land-use. Some boards did not understand that HPD deeds properties to developers but does not actually construct housing; thus when HPD would tell them that plans were in place [to seek out a developer to construct housing] for a property, board members interpreted it to mean that development was imminent and thus their vision for a community project was unattainable. When in reality, HPD had neither a developer nor a construction timeline, and a variety of futures were still possible. The pivotal role that 596 Acres played in educating community boards is clear.

596 Acres’ core organizing platform remained the powerful center of many of the community board meetings. In all seven community districts whose boards we revisited since 2014 – five repeats and two additions in 2015 – residents began working with us to improve their neighborhoods. 

At a Bronx Community Board 4 Parks Committee meeting, one neighbor approached 596 Acres for help addressing a lot next to his business at East 150th Street and Grand Concourse, an eyesore that attracts rodents, trash, and drug dealers; meanwhile, a board committee member raised ideas about a long-vacant property just west of the Macombs Dam Bridge, near Yankee Stadium. We immediately started working with both these residents on their land access puzzles, and connected them to more neighbors who would strengthen their causes. 

At subsequent 596 Acres General Meetings, residents like these shared numerous stories of the energetic efforts that our community board meetings had galvanized across the city.

Bronx Community District 1 (print map here)
In the South Bronx, there are 12 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map)! Here is one parcel that is very close to being community controlled:

Bronx Community District 3 (print map here)
In the South-Central Bronx, there are 3 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map)!

Bronx Community District 4 (print map here)
In Mt. Eden, Highbridge, West and East Concourse, there are 3 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map).

Bronx Community District 12 (print map here)
Baychester, Eastchester, and Woodlawn, there is 1 acre of vacant public land (click for an interactive map).

Brooklyn Community District 5 (print map here)
There are 36 acres of vacant public land in East New York and Cypress Hills (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has already facilitated five new community projects in Community District 5 with local community-based organizations at their helms.

Brooklyn Community District 16 (print map here)
There are 24 acres of vacant public land in Brownsville and Ocean Hill (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has facilitated two fantastic project here.

Queens Community District 14 (print map here)
There are 153 acres of vacant public land in Rockaway (click for an interactive map); Beach 45th Street Farm is thriving and catalyzing neighbors to organize.


Brooklyn Community Board 5; photo by Mary Elizabeth Prall for 596 Aces.

For immediate release: Court Questions LLC’s Claim to Ownership of Community Garden, Throwing Wrench in Prospect-Lefferts Development Plans

12 November 2015

The Maple Street Community Garden, threatened with eviction and targeting by restraining orders throughout the last year, is safe for now. On Friday, Judge Mark Partnow of the Kings County Supreme Court responded affirmatively to gardeners’ motions to dismiss a claim to ownership of the property made before him by “Housing Urban Development LLC” – a private corporation, not the federal agency.  

In the written decision, posted in full here, Judge Partnow acknowledge material misstatements made by representatives of the LLC in filings before him and questioned the validity of deeds filed with New York City Department of Finance. Paula Z. Segal, director of 596 Acres, New York City’s community land access advocacy organization and partner in Mohen & Segal LLP, is the gardeners’ attorney. 

“We are really happy with the decision. Judge Partnow took care to weigh the impacts of potentially illegal development on the local community and to consider the entirety of the record before him,” said Segal. 

The property formerly belonged to Germaine Kirton, an immigrant from Guyana who passed away in 1990, leaving no apparent heirs. This week, the court also appointed a guardian for the estate of Mrs. Kirton.

The Kirton house burned down in 1997. For decades, the property was a dumping ground for washing machines, tires and household rubbish. In 2012, the Maple 3 Block Association, sick of the mess, initiated a clean up and transformed the dump into the Maple Street Community Garden. After the house was demolished by the City, the property was included in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 tax lien sales; but the holder of the debt never foreclosed.

"The Maple Street Community Garden took a long-standing eyesore and health hazard and turned it into a wholesome green space for work and relaxation, serving the whole Prospect Lefferts Gardens community," said Tom LaFarge, a Maple Street Community Gardener and resident of Prospect-Lefferts.

“The Maple Street Community Garden is an oasis for residents of all ages. So many men, women, and children in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens worked hard to beautify this area and while the recent ruling is certainly phenomenal news, we must continue to protect this public space,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “I hope that all residents will be able to enjoy this treasured community garden for years to come.”

"The garden is a wonderful asset available to the public,” said New York Senator Jesse Hamilton who represents the neighborhood. "I am pleased with Judge Partnow's decision, and I applaud the neighbors fighting for this community asset. Deed fraud is a pervasive problem for my constituents, and I will fight it with renewed dedication.”

Senator Hamilton introduced a bill in October, S6073, that, when passed, will direct the State Parks Department to acquire the property via eminent domain for preservation as a garden through the NYC Parks GreenThumb Program. Assemblymember Diana Richardson introduced a companion bill in the Assembly (number pending).

"The Maple Street Garden is a wonderful site promoting social activity, and building civic-minded awareness amongst committed members of the community,” Richardson said. “I am proud to have introduced legislation into the Assembly that will allow these fine residents continued access to the garden for the years to come. It is the work and activism of groups such as this that help to better our district, and I will remain a committed advocate on their behalf.”

"The Maple Street Community Garden is an important green space for the residents of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, a community that worked diligently to transform it from a dumping ground to a delightful garden,” said Borough President Eric Adams. "I appreciate the work of Judge Partnow on this case, and I ask my former colleagues in the New York State Legislature to join onto State Senator Hamilton and Assemblymember Richardson's legislation to take this property through eminent domain for the purposes of preservation as a community garden.”

Press contact: Paula Z. Segal, Esq., 718-316-6092 x 2,

The house at 237 Maple Street in 1984, when Germaine Kirton still lived there. She and her husband Oscar Kirton bought this house in 1968, when they were forced to move from their Bedford-Stuyvesant home so that a New York City Housing Authority campus could be built where it used to stand. Image from NYC Department of Records

Public Buildings For Sale to Private For-Profit Developers: Press Conference October 28, 2105 at 9:30am

18 October 2015

UPDATED: October 27, 2015, 3:40pm

The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has announced the first public auction of "surplus" City real estate since 2013. We are working together with Picture the Homeless, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Banana Kelly to stop the sale of key public assets. 

The auction includes a former Health Department building in Queens that neighbors have started envisioning as an alternative health center and a residential building in the South Bronx (5,400 buildable square feet) that could be used to house some of the thousands of people in NYC's shelters. It also includes a South Bronx building that was renovated by SoBRO in 1974 utilizing a grant from the US Economic Development Administration and has been a source of funding to support economic development in the South Bronx and a source of jobs ever since.

Selling these buildings to private developers will surely lead to them being turned into private spaces instead. This week, we brought the auction to the attention of the City Council Members and Community Boards representing the neighborhoods where the buildings are.

You can read the letters we sent to City Council Members and Community Boards here here and here. We also sent a summary of this urgent situation to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. You can read that here.

Please join us tomorrow at the courthouse: Wednesday, October 28, 9:30am, Bronx County Courthouse at 851 Grand Concourse. Press release below.  


CONTACT:  Ryan Hickey,

Community Activists, Homeless People Protest "Sneaky" Auction of City-Owned Property
Demand an end to "stealth" auctions; decry $11M minimum asking price as incompatible with urgently-needed production of low-income housing

WHAT: Protest of DCAS Auction of City-Owned Property

WHEN: Wednesday, October 28th 2015, 9:30AM

WHERE: Bronx County Courthouse, 851 Grand Concourse

New York, NY – Community-based organizations and activists will rally at the Bronx County Courthouse to protest the auction of city-owned property to rich developers at a time when community-driven development and housing for homeless New Yorkers is more urgently needed than ever.  

"Public property should be for the public good," said Andres Perez of Picture the Homeless, “not sold the highest bidder. By setting an $11M minimum asking price for one of these properties, the city is signaling that they only want to deal with the kind of wealthy developers who have already proved they have no interest in building housing that benefits working-class and extremely-low-income New Yorkers."

Activists also took issue with the "stealth" nature of the auction, with little public promotion of the event, and a lack of awareness about the sale among elected officials, city agency representatives, community residents, and non-profit organizations.

"The people of the Bronx need affordable housing, not conglomerates who are trying to capitalize on property that provides unaffordable housing in NYC,” said Janice Singleton, a Banana Kelly Resident Council Leader. “When is proper change going to take place for the residents of the Bronx?"

DCAS auction guidelines set no restrictions on what kinds of uses prospective purchasers can put these public assets to, and no restrictions on the types of purchasers able to participate in the auction; there is also no requirement that buyers put property to productive use or obtain a Certificate of Occupancy within any fixed timeline. 

“The City is missing opportunities to stabilize neighborhoods by allowing space for the development of community assets on public land and through re-purposing public buildings.” says Paula Z. Segal, attorney and director of 596 Acres, New York City’s community land access advocacy organization. "In the property it owns, the City has both resources and leverage: City­-owned vacant land and buildings can be turned into housing that is permanently affordable; community space or gardens; or affordable commercial, cultural, retail and manufacturing space that our neighborhoods badly need. S​imply disposing of the property at auction takes this leverage away.”



How the Tax Lien Sale is Making Vacant Lots In Your Neighborhood More Terrible (and putting community land at risk)

18 October 2015

A big reason that private owners of vacant and abandoned properties in our neighborhoods don't face consequences when they don't pay taxes and let weeds and trash pile up on their properties is that the City sells the tax debt to private collection agencies instead of keeping the debt and enforcing it. This is done through the "Tax Lien Sale." 

The NYC City Council has convened a Tax Lien Sale Task Force to study the impacts of the sale. We wrote a letter to the Task Force - on behalf of everyone who has gotten in touch to ask us what they could do about the rat-and-weed infested lot on their block - describing the impact of vacant and abandoned properties on neighborhoods. Get in touch ( if you want to tell the Task Force about how the awful privately-owned, tax-delinquent lot on your block affects you!

The Tax Lien Sale also makes trouble for not-for-profit organizations that own land. With the collaboration of the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, we saved the 1100 Bergen Community Garden and the Merrick Marsden Garden from disappearing to private development due to tax lien foreclosure last year. Now the Tax Lien Sale is the reason that the Imani garden is at risk

Click on the letter to read the rest.

Adam Purple's LIFE with les(s) ego

26 September 2015

From our friend and archivist-in-residence Daniel Bowman Simon, with help from Bill Brown.

Adam Purple was laid to rest yesterday at Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve.  (You can contribute to the Adam Purple Burial and Memorial Fund here.) 

In the words of Garden of Eden photographer Harvey Wang, Adam Purple (rev. les ego) was a social activist, philosopher, and urban gardener/revolutionary. He created the world-famous eARThWORK, "The Garden of Eden," which flourished on Manhattan’s Lower East Side from 1975-1986. 

Over the years, he compiled and distributed documents that related in some way, shape, or form, to the garden, entitled "LIFE with les(s) ego." As noted on the cover page - CO-PUBLISHER: The People's Earthwide Press (wherever you have free use of a copying machine.)  He also admonished people to "INTERNET THIS!"  This version, which we are co-publishing here, is from 2001. 

Adam also maintained a page at the now-defunct Geocites, which Internet Archive has preserved here.

You can watch Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden, by Harvey Wang and Amy Brost here.  You can read Bill Brown's argument for having the Garden of Eden recreated at the World Trade Center site here

A New 596 Acres Publication: COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE CARDS For Your Groups!

28 July 2015

These Community Governance Cards are designed to help facilitate the development of healthy group dynamics and habits. Click the link to see the PDF and feel free to make your own edition. 

Published July 2015.
Design by Rachel Albetski.
First edition of 400, printed by Radix Media and bound with ring.

$12 per set, includes shipping and handling (or buy them from us directly when you see us tabling this fall for $10).

Wholesale orders of 10 sets or more are $8 each; contact for wholesale purchasing.  

Recommendations for Making the NYC Tax Lien Sale Work Better for Non-Profit Property Owners and Neighbors of Vacant and Abandoned Lots and Buildings

15 July 2015

New York City has a new Tax Lien Sale Task Force that is going to study how the tax lien sale impacts nieghborhoods for the next year. 

The Tax Lien Sale is scheduled to be reauthorized at the end of 2016. Our recommendations would help (1) preserve existing community assets and (2) give the City much-needed leverage over vacant and abandoned properties that are currently vulnerable to deed-theft and speculation.


596 Acres is New York City’s community land access advocacy organization. In three years, we have helped 32 groups create new pocket parks, community farms and gardens on publicly owned vacant land. We also help protect existing privately owned community resources. We have first-hand experience of the impact of vacancy and abandonment on New York City neighborhoods due to the requests for information that we handle from neighbors of such properties through our intake and organizing staff and specifically through our work with two gardens on properties that were abandoned by their prior owners in the 1990s.


The current tax lien sale structure puts existing community spaces at risk of being foreclosed on by private entities – threatening legacy spaces like the 1100 Bergen Street and Merrick Marsden Community Gardens.

1100 Bergen Street Community Garden in Crown Heights was founded by neighbors cleaning up vacant lots on their block in 1980s; in 1989, the lots comprising the garden were purchased by the Trust for Public Land and transferred to the 1100 Bergen Street Block Association. The Garden was likely eligible for a not-for-profit tax abatement but gardeners were never advised and they never got one. Instead, the former president of the garden association simply paid the annual property tax bills. When he passed away, those tax bills continued to be sent to his home, tax debt accrued and that debt was sold to through the lien sale. The bank that purchsed the lien note initiated collection actions that could have resulted in a foreclosure and the disappearance of the garden. To protect this historic Crown Heights space, 596 Acres worked with the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust to pay off the debt and protect the property.

The Block Association and the Trust had to raise the past-due amount and interest accrued while the debt was with the bank post-sale. This amount, in excess of $20,000, could have been forgiven by the City had it not been sold since the garden was eligible for a tax abatement. The bank, having purchased the debt for its face value, claimed it was not in a position to forgive it. Once the foreclosure was forestalled, the Block Association transferred the property to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, a larger organization with greater capacity for administration in February 2015.

The Merrick Marsden Association, owners of an open space in Jamaica, Queens, that has served the community since 1967, had a nearly identical close call last year that resulted in a fundraising frenzy to pay off the debt that the City sold and a subsequent a transfer of the property to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust in January 2014.

We are proud of our work preserving these legacy spaces, but these close calls are illustrative of how the lien sale currently puts communtiy based organizations that serve their neighborhoods via properties that they own – gardens, day care facilities, community centers – are undermined by the sale of their debt.

Another Crown Heights garden is currenlty at risk: a tax lien was sold and the same recorded on June 18, 2015, against a lot owned by the inactive not-for-profit Imani Housing Development Corporation, which is in the center of the New York Restoration Project-managed Imani I Garden. Some intervention is likely necessary to make sure that ownership of the property continues to facilitate community uses, but the private bank that purchased the lien is not the right party. If tax debt against this not-for-profit entity was exempt from the lien sale, then the City could use the Third Party Transfer Program to transfer title the New York Restoration Project, the not-for-profit organization that owns the nieghboring lots to the north and south. As it stands now, the garden is at risk of being divided. 


Where abandoned properties with absentee owners are accruing tax debt to the City, the fact that that debt is sold to private entities eliminates the City’s ability to intervene in the abandonment and aid the local community in transforming eyesores and dumping grounds into positive resources. Vacant and abandoned properties on which no taxes are paid could be a source of properties for the creation of new open spaces and affordable housing opportunities. But when the debt is sold to private collectors, these opportunities are foreclosed while neighborhoods suffer boarded up buildings and vacant lots full of debris. 

Two community gardens we work with exist because neighbors chose to get involved where the City could not and transform dereliction into abundance: the Roger That and Maple Street Community Gardens are both on properties abandoned by their owners on which tax debt (and liens for HPD’s removal of the buildings that used to be there) were not paid for decades. Both gardens are now at risk of disappearing as private for-profit developers emerge and claim to purchase deeds from the heirs of the owners who abandoned them over twenty years ago. Had the City stepped in to collect past-due accounts on these vacant properties at an earlier moment, they could now be safely in the inventory of the Parks Department (or have been transformed into much-needed permanently affordable housing).


Our recommendation is that the following properties should be excluded from the tax lien sale and instead, where appropriate, routed to the Third Party Transfer program:

·      All occupied properties owned by not-for-profit corporations. Not-for-profit corporations hold property in service of their missions, whether the provision of community services, like day cares and community gardens, or affordable housing. When such organizations fail to pay property taxes or apply for appropriate tax abatements and their debt is sold to private entities for collection and potential foreclosure, key community services are unnecessarily placed at risk. The tax lien sale allows properties acquired through charity and public money to become private properties when buyers of the tax debt foreclose. To protect community gardens and open spaces, when making this change, the statutory definition of “occupied” should include “in use as a community garden or open space.”

·       All unoccupied properties, including vacant residential and commercial properties and vacant lots. Unoccupied properties, held empty by speculators or for lack of development resources, are critical resources that could be used for affordable housing and other important public uses. When these properties accrue unpaid tax debt, and that debt is sold, the City gives up its power to intervene to transform these wasted spaces into positive use. Rather than allowing such properties to lie fallow and accumulate more debt, leaving holes in neighborhoods, the City should use its resources to facilitate the transfer of these properties, via TPT, to responsible non-profit owners who can use these properties for the public good.

Our recommendations are also incorporated into the New York City Community Land Initiative’s recommedations for reform of the tax lien sale with a broader view to preserving and creating crucial affordable housing and open space in New York City neighborhoods; they are included here as an attachment. You can download a PDF here. 

What Do We Do With Our Land? -- annotating community land stewardship on the Lower East Side for the New Museum IDEAS CITY Festival

30 May 2015

“Gaining our freedom is, in the first place, ripping off a few acres from the face of a domesticated planet.” - Attila Kotanyi and Raoul Vaneigem, “manifesto of unitary urbanism”

Invisible structures and invisible histories make cities as we know them, see them, smell them and dig in their soils. On the occasion of the Ideas City Festival, hosted by the New Museum, 596 Acres, Deborah Berke Partners and GRT Architects invite you on a tour of tax lot lines, leases, settled court cases, City-agency jurisdiction assignments, histories of organizing, memories of long meetings, cleared garbage heaps, community land trusts and New Yorkers struggling and succeeding to create and control the space of the City, together.


You can see a PDF of the printed map we handed out at the festival here.


Elizabeth Street Garden is the only green oasis in the Little Italy and SoHo neighborhood. The Garden, open to the public by volunteers, provides a beautiful sanctuary for local residents and workers. The site was transformed from a derelict lot into a garden in 1991 when Elizabeth Street Gallery leased the site from the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

In June 2013, neighbors came together to preserve the Garden permanently as a unique public green, open space. The community learned the Garden resides on city-owned land and in conjunction with the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area rezoning, the City committed to build housing on the site. In 2014, Community Board 2 passed a resolution supporting the permanent preservation of the Garden, in its entirety, as a NYC Park.  

Since then, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden has grown a volunteer base of nearly 400 people, established a nonprofit corporation, staffed and opened the Garden to the public year round and programmed more than 150 free public events—including gardening and educational programming for adults and children, wellness programming such as yoga, tai chi and meridian tapping, and an annual Harvest Festival attended by more than 2,000 neighbors.


Currently, the Garden has no protections as an official NYC park, garden or open space. The City can recognize its importance and protect it by transferring the land to the Parks Department. What can you do?  Volunteer ONE hour a month to keep the Garden open for all!  Email

El Jardin Del Paraiso, situated between E 4th and 5th Streets and Avenues C and D in the Lower East Side, was created as a green space by local residents in 1981 out of series of abandoned lots, some owned by the City and some owned by private entities. Homesteaders, gardeners, artists, religious leaders, the Junior League, and the principal of P.S. 15, worked together to advocate for the expansion and preservation of the garden as a permanent park. The group convinced the City that El Jardin was perfectly situated to become a new park for the Lower East Side in a part of the neighborhood badly served by the existing green spaces. The city condemned three adjacent privately owned lots that formerly divided the space during the 1990s using eminent domain, making the park whole.


The lots that El Jardin is on were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department in 1999 but have not yet been officially mapped as parkland; they also have buildable floor area and are zoned as residential land (R8B). The buildable area could be transferred as development rights to be used elsewhere or eliminated if the City officially maps El Jardin as parkland. Today, El Jardin Del Paraiso provides recreational green space for a diverse community to gather, and hosts a broad program of educational and garden events. In 2012, the park joined the neighborhood coalition LUNGS (Lower East Side Neighborhood Gardens), urging the city to officially create a Community Garden District in the Lower East Side and permanently preserve the remaining gardens in neighborhood.

In 2012, residents of the Lower East Side gained access to two parcels of city-owned vacant land near the corner of Stanton and Attorney Streets and created the Siempre Verde Garden. The parcels are in the inventory of Housing Preservation and Development. The lots had previously been a garden in the 1980s and 1990s. 596 Acres, New York’s community land access advocacy organization, had posted signs on the rusty fences surrounding the lots announcing that the land was publicly owned and that (re)creating the garden was possible. Neighbors who saw the signs connected with one another through 596 Acres and organized to get an interim use license through the New York City Parks Department Green Thumb program. Siempre Verde provides an inclusive recreational open space in an otherwise densely developed area.

The gardeners are in the midst of efforts to make the garden whole by having the City acquire a privately owned lot that divides the two garden parcels. This could happen through a purchase, a condemnation via eminent domain or a donation from the owner of that parcel. The development company that owns that lot is simultaneously campaigning to have the City parcels that the garden is on transferred to itself for new housing construction. The gardeners have so far been successful in preventing City approval of the developer’s plan and instead getting the local Community Board to unanimously request that the garden parcels be transferred to the Parks Department’s jurisdiction, where they will be more likely to be protected by state public trust doctrine. The City has not yet heeded the Community Board’s request; the lots continue to be sites of speculation and insecurity while the garden thrives.  

The Cooper Square Committee (CSC) is a non-profit organization of Lower East Side residents preserving and developing affordable housing, community and cultural spaces. CSC formed in 1959 to fight the City of New York’s Cooper Square Slum Clearance plan, one of the first of the over 150 Urban Renewal Area Plans created and adopted for NYC’s “blighted” neighborhoods. The City plan was to bulldoze the buildings, move the residents and start over with a higher income population living in a less densely populated neighborhood. The CSC succeeded in resisting that plan and forced the City to adopt a their alternative plan, aimed at keeping the neighborhood racially, economically, and culturally diverse instead. The adoption of the community plan prevented the displacement of several thousand people as well as the demolition of over 300 buildings. In 1991, CSC created the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association (MHA), now managing nearly 400 low-income cooperative apartments. The MHA owns the 21 buildings that these apartments are in; the Cooper Square Community Land Trust owns the land beneath the buildings and leases to the MHA on a renewable 99-year term. The mission of the Community Land Trust is make sure these 21 lots are used for affordable housing for low and moderate income people; covenants in the deeds to these lots give the Community Land Trust oversight power over the renter, the MHA. Residents own shares in the MHA that give them access to their units. This balanced system is the tool that CSC has used to permanently preserve affordable housing on some of the most expensive land in NYC.

City Council Member Inez Dickens Asks HPD Commissioner to Save Harlem Gardens

25 May 2015

Harlem City Council Member Inez Dickens wrote a letter on Thursday, May 21st to Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been asking for active community gardens operating under "interim use agreements" in her district to be removed from the list of sites offered to developers for $1 at this time. Her letter is here

These gardens have been included Request for Qualifications addressed to the development community. The lots that the gardens are on are being offered for nominal $1 transfers (free!) to become development sites.

Icon inez_dickens_community_gardens_support_2015.pdf (72.0 KB)

We're Hiring a Community Land Access Program Organizer!

20 May 2015

Since 2011 596 Acres' Community Land Access Program has helped 32 groups transform vacant, City-owned pieces of land into community resources. Our online mapping tools makes information about public property available and easy to understand. We also engage neighbors by hanging up signs up on the fences and work with them to help realize community control over spaces.  As the organizer, you'll play a key role in helping neighborhood groups navigate the process of accessing land. Here's what you’ll do:

Program Management

  • Coordinate, collaborate, and strategize in tandem with Executive Director

  • Work closely with 596 Acres advisory committee, both as a staff support and strategic partners

  • Manage volunteers

  • Support development of organization’s programmatic work plan

  • Work with the Executive Director, governance board, staff and members to develop and evaluate organizing strategies

  • Generate new program ideas and work with staff and board to implement and carry out programming related to the organization’s priorities

  • Write the weekly News From the Acres

  • Develop print and web materials as needed

  • Foster a team-oriented, supportive, accountable work environment at 596 Acres



  • Hang signs on fences of vacant lots City-wide

  • Lead workshops for various community based organizations and neighborhood groups

  • Table for 596 Acres at community events

  • Support and initiate relationship-building and cultivate meaningful collaborations with community leaders, local politicians, and community-based organizations

  • Represent the organization with local and state government officials, in the media, and with private organizations

  • Use social media as outreach and organizing tool

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps


Land Access Advocacy Organizing

  • Support the organizing efforts of local land access advocates around NYC by monitoring website activity and following up with active organizing groups regularly

  • Process and respond to new intake within 48 hours

  • Maintain our email-oriented database with extreme attention to detail

  • Stay current on process of application for license and leases through relevant city agencies for community use

  • Liaise with city agencies and intervene in direct community outreach when needed

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps

  • Facilitate monthly general meetings

Here's what we're looking for in an applicant

  • Extreme comfort with email and filing

  • Experience in and commitment to bottom-up organizing, grassroots leadership, and collective decision-making

  • Comfort with responding to email immediately within regular working hours

  • Comfort with flexible organizing schedule to accommodate community event needs

  • Willingness to travel throughout the five boroughs

  • Familiarity with City government processes (and willingness to learn more about them!)

  • Demonstrated ability to work in multi-racial, multi-lingual settings

This is part time (21 hours per week) position with benefits. Pay is $24,000 per year (negotiable if you do not want to take advantage of the benefits package). Our office is in Gowanus, Brooklyn; regular office hours are required.

To apply, submit a cover letter and resume to by Wednesday, May 27th at 12 pm.