Squatters Organize Co-op in the World's Tallest Slum
Filed under: Real Estate
By Sheree R. Curry
AOL Real Estate
Tales of squatters occupying vacant buildings have lately become a familiar one, but in one city they've become about as organized as some New York co-ops, as some 2,500 people have transformed an unfinished skyscraper -- topped by a helipad -- from a symbol of financial muscle into the world's tallest slum.
Reaching 45 stories into the skyline of Caracas, Venezuela, the Tower of David is a vision of the economic power that eventually went unfulfilled. Construction began on the office building in 1990 during boom years in that country, but a banking crisis in 1994 interrupted its progress. The opportunistic "tenants" of the uncompleted structure have called it home since about 2007. They've jury-rigged an electrical system to bring light to the building and -- as described in the video above by a Vocativ reporter who has gone where few journalists have -- hauled toilets and sinks up dozens of flights of stairs in a structure where the elevator shaft stands empty.
"We've been in Torre de David for about two weeks, and it's been an experience," resident Nicolas Alvarez tells Vocativ in the video, "Fortunately, thank God, we were given this opportunity in this space that is at a very low price." That's right. The residents pay a form of rent: They pool their money to provide basic services for everyone.
The residents say the Tower of David, named for one of its founders, is not crime-ridden -- unlike the way it's been portrayed in the media. Instead, it's a bustling community of people who have put up drywall, installed doors, brushed on coats of paint and now call the place home, and not all the residents are without jobs, or even poor. Overseen by board members, they even collect dues, employ maintenance workers and a secretary, and make sure that the elderly and disabled occupy the lower levels, according to New York magazine. There are even beauty salons, Internet cafes and a church, according to the Domus design website.
The Tower of David isn't the first such abandoned structure that's been overtaken on such a large scale, though. Hong Kong's notorious Kowloon Walled City was once home to an estimated 50,000 squatters before the settlement was demolished in 1993.
The squatters who've made the biggest news lately in the U.S., meanwhile, are those who've boldly attempted to claim vacant luxury properties through legal maneuvers around the law of adverse possession, prompting states such as Florida to change those statutes. Others have preferred to go underground, literally, as in the case of an underground complex of tunnels and caves dug by homeless people that was discovered this year in Kansas City, Mo.