From Ruin to Renewal: Sprouting an Urban Garden

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, squatters in one of the many dilapidated buildings on the Lower East Side braved harsh living conditions to create an alternative housing community. They repaired joists, laid floors, installed windows, plumbing, and electrical systems, fought eviction, and saved their home from demolition.  In the early 2000s, UHAB helped residents of this building begin the process of becoming a legal, limited-equity co-op. People from the different apartments may not have been related by blood, but facing the challenges of converting to cooperative housing made them a family of choice.  When one neighbor was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, for instance, everyone pitched in to pay for a critical medical device that her insurance would not cover.

Today, the camaraderie among these neighbors has reached new heights: Broccoli, okra, zucchini, basil, and a host of other vegetables sprout from this building’s rooftop garden, an example of communal urban farming at its best.

Known as Umbrella House, this building is among New York City’s 1,600 affordable co-ops that UHAB has guided since their days as distressed or failed rentals. UHAB serves as the monitoring agent, providing a variety of ongoing services, from technical assistance to training in sound management, fiscal health, and maintaining community spirit. Umbrella House has a regulatory agreement as well with the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development, also designed to help this housing community thrive for generations to come.

Read more about Umbrella House in The New York Times.