The atmosphere was electric last Thursday night at the swinging '60s Senior Center in Greenpoint. “Old ladies never die, they just play bingo”, read a sign at one end of the meeting room, while a large American flag hung from the other. In between, an overflow crowd of angry artists submitted 5 and ½ hours of testimony to the receptive ears of a State Assembly panel chaired by Vito Lopez. Dispossessed, but prepared to fight back, North Brooklyn artists facing eviction came from the hearing knowing that their voices were indeed heard.
Such a mobilization stems precisely from two sources: the rapacious actions of commercial landlords, and the counter- organizing of the Brooklyn LiveWork coalition. As amply reported at the hearing, countless owners of warehouse spaces eagerly rent to artists, knowing full well that their skills will improve the property. Once the building has been renovated, and a neighborhood consequently starts to become more desirable, the owner then smells paydirt. One need not be an Oliver Stone to smell collusion between the developers and various city and state agencies from here to Albany.
The LiveWork coalition has grown like wildfire since the December evictions in DUMBO. It now represents over 60 buildings and more than 2000 tenants, the latter resolute in their determination to maintain the fruits of their toil. Many tenants who testified last week spoke passionately about the time and money they put into making their previously uninhabited buildings livable. And they detailed the changes they have helped make in their neighborhoods, from general cleaning up to improving community safety (without relying solely on the police). The LiveWork coalition is also well aware of the need for North Brooklyn artists to work directly with the existing local communities in the area, which are also suffering eviction, but fighting with less economic resources. Coming issues of The Rail will keep readers posted on LiveWork’s outreach efforts.
In the meantime, State Housing Committee Chair Lopez vows to submit loft law legislation covering Brooklyn to the Assembly. There he predicts passage, but making it through the Republican Senate and past the Governor is a “100-1 shot”, Lopez says. Nevertheless, he vows that we will win…provided we stay unified.” Such legislation is crucial to the survival of the arts in Brooklyn and across the city, meaning it’s a fight effecting more than just those facing immediate eviction. Even with the recent success in DUMBO, the fight has only just begun!
For now, I hope you enjoy the Rail’s travels across the bridges, tunnels, and various waterways that connect Brooklyn to the rest of the world…