Spring is here and, as the rats leave the buildings of Brooklyn and evicted tenants return to their homes on Water Street after seven weeks of limbo, the situation for thousands of residents of illegally converted commercial lofts in Brooklyn is starting to look brighter. This is not only because longer days and the rise in temperature and the lengthening of daylight hours has lessened the effects of either prohibitively expensive or landlord-cut electricity or gas supplies, but also because community organization has opened up a dialogue between live-work tenants and city and state politicians. A strong indication of the impact of said dialogue is the formation of an Artists’ Space Needs Task Force by Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden.
“Long-time residents who are the backbone of Brooklyn’s arts communities like Red Hook, DUMBO, Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Fort Greene are facing real estate pressures that jeopardize their ability to pursue their art and in some cases to remain in Brooklyn,” said Borough President Howard Golden at a March 21st press conference at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Society. He stressed that “if Brooklyn wishes to retain the vibrancy of its arts community then their concerns need to be carefully considered and addressed.” Golden made his comments as he introduced the members of the planning task force formed in response to the results of a survey distributed last spring to artists living and working in Brooklyn. The results of the survey indicate what Golden termed a “growing space crisis in the arts community.” A pie chart wouldn’t be necessary for most New York residents to guess that among the most serious concerns are rent increases (almost 50 percent since 1990), eviction, and skyrocketing commercial leases for work-only spaces.
Golden has his staff see this crisis as one that not only effects individual artists or artist communities, but also the over-all quality of life for borough residents. We have grown accustomed to the economic and social stimulation of Brooklyn’s reputation as a “thriving arts center where visual art, dance, music, and literary arts are a part of our everyday life,” noted Deputy Borough President Gadson. Those selected for Goldens’s task force are from arts organizations, housing organizations, and arts services organizations throughout Brooklyn. The members will consider the housing issues faced by artists living in Brooklyn and discuss strategies to preserve and develop affordable artists’ housing. They plan to study communities locally and nationally where the arts have not only flourished but also found stability because their housing and studio needs have been creatively and legally met.
Meanwhile, in Albany this past March, Assembly Housing Committee Chair Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) delivered on his promise to push legislation extending loft law coverage into Brooklyn through the Assembly. In late March, Sen. Roy Goodman (R-Manhattan) introduced the bills in the state Senate, where passage will be much more difficult given that the more conservative (and developer-friendly) Republicans form the majority. The Giuliani Administration is also floating its own proposal to expand protections for Brooklyn loft tenants, but in exchange, the city Loft Board would be dismantled. Both Lopez and the LiveWork Coalition have adopted a cautiously optimistic tone regarding Giuliani’s entry into the controversy, Goodman, however, flatly told the Daily News that the “city’s law will not help loft tenants at all. It is basically an eviction bill.” It is helpful for all concerned parties to remember Borough President Golden’s quip: “The biggest threat to the arts in Brooklyn has been Giuliani.”
Contact the Brooklyn LiveWork Coalition at www.brooklynlivework.org
ZOE ALSOP is a journalist residing in Kenya. She reported for the Associated Press in Bogota.