Bad news for squatters and survivalists: Instead of just letting abandoned condo developments turn into illegal havens for trespassers, the city is starting a $20 million pilot program to turn unsold condominiums, unrented apartments and stalled construction sites into affordable housing for middle-income families. Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the plan, called the Housing Asset Renewal Program (HARP), in which the city will negotiate with developers and banks to turn the unoccupied units into affordable housing.

Quinn says the average cost to the city of $50,000 per unit would be less than the $75,000 to $100,000 it usually costs the city create an affordable housing unit from scratch. With HARP, the city won't actually be buying the properties, and the program will focus on neighborhoods outside of Manhattan to turn around two types of developments: completed projects with a high number of vacancies and stalled sites that are still under construction. (There are a lot of them these days!) Bloomberg told reporters yesterday, "Private developments that sit vacant or unfinished could have a destabilizing effect on our neighborhoods, but we’re not about to let that happen." As many as 400 units could be converted as part of the pilot program.

Vincent Riso, a Queens developer, predicts that developers and banks will want to cut their losses and participate in the program. He tells Crain's, "At some point, a developer has to be a practical person and say, 'I don’t see the economy coming back for a year, two years, let me get out of it whatever I can.'" Last year the city announced plans to use $24 million in federal money to buy more than 100 foreclosed homes and create 300 low- and middle income housing units. And last month another program that turned an empty luxury condo in Brooklyn into a homeless shelter drew outrage from some neighbors.