544 West 13th Street under construction in January, via Paul A. Castrucci Architect (L)
Actress Rosario Dawson’s family hopes to buy low-income apartments in a newly renovated building as part of a city program that converts abandoned homes into affordable units. Rosario grew up in an East Village squatter’s den and her family continues to live in the East 13th Street co-op, even after the actress became famous and amassed a net worth of more than $16 million. According to the New York Post, long-time tenants of the building say the Dawson family bullied their way into controlling a third of the 14-unit residence over the last 20 years.
The 19th-century building at 544 East 13th Street (between Avenues A and B) has been owned by the nonprofit Urban Homesteading Assistance Board since 2002, and the city sold the property for $1 each to aid the non-profit’s goal of helping squatters take legal ownership of the properties. However, its co-op conversion did not begin until 2015 and the city has spent $1.78 million for renovations. Squatters now are being given the chance to buy apartments there for $2,500 each, but they can earn no more than $53,450 per year have to live in the building at least 270 days of the year to be considered eligible.
Rosario’s mother, Isabel, who says charity work takes her out of the city much of the year, doesn’t want to adhere to the primary residency rule. During a December 2016 meeting, Isabel asked the nonprofit representative if the rule can be changed to just six months.
One of the original squatters, Annie Wilson, discovered the building in 1986 overrun by feral cats and garbage. Wilson, an activist and artist, worked with other community members to restore the building and bring in water and electricity. She told the post that Rosario financially backs her family. “She’s supportive of her parents. I don’t understand why she hasn’t acquired housing for them elsewhere so these units could be for New Yorkers in need.”
The Dawsons first landed at the East Village co-op in 1986 and were voted by other squatters to occupy apartment 4C. Although the family soon moved to Texas, they continued to sublet their unit to others, a peculiar move for tenants in this type of building. When they returned to East 13th Street, Isabel allegedly became physically aggressive with neighbors. In a 2001 letter, the president of the Tenants’ Association, Alfa Diallo, wrote, “Isabel Dawson’s threatening and violent behavior have jeopardized the safety of the residents.”
Despite these complaints, Isabel and other Dawson family members were able to stay in the building, and ss the Post reported, the family spread their squatting to other apartments, even taking over one unit while its tenant was at work. Isabel’s husband event started living in a room on the first floor that tenants hoped to turn into a gallery or music room.
Adam Leitman Bailey, a lawyer who represents the Dawsons, told the Post that after reviewing the family’s tax returns, all of them are qualified to buy the apartments. “I can guarantee you that none of them are wealthy,” he said.
[Via NY Post]
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Neighborhoods : East Village