In 1987, three years after moving to New York City, Maggie Wrigley found herself on the edge of homelessness. She was trying to figure out where to stay, when she heard about an abandoned tenement building on the Lower East Side. It was owned by the city, but it had been left empty and unmaintained. The building was full of rubble. Some of the walls were rotten and falling down. There was no running water. But it was a place to live, rent-free. Wrigley moved in.
It wasn’t just the building that was falling down. The whole Lower East Side — a neighborhood that today is filled with expensive boutiques and high-end condos — was struggling in the 1980s. There were trash-strewn lots and empty buildings everywhere. By the late 1980s, squatters like Wrigley would come to occupy more than a dozen old tenements on the Lower East Side.