LiveWork: The Struggle Continuesby Theodore Hamm
On a steamy Sunday evening in late July, the LiveWork Coalition hosted a rooftop party and awards ceremony. The loft tenant organizers did so as a way of saying thanks to their political allies, and of rallying the ground troops for more battles ahead in the fall and throughout the winter. With 200 or so artists, politicos, and fellow travelers in attendance, the event was an unqualified success. Whether or not the Coalition’s struggle to obtain Loft Law coverage for Brooklyn loft tenants—as well as those in Queens, South Bronx, Chelsea, and Manhattan—will pan out remains to be seen.
Standing on the roof of a four-story building near the Brooklyn Brewery, it became instantly clear to the gathered crowd what the struggle was about: preserving the amazing habitats that the artists and other pioneering residential tenants of the Williamsburg warehouse district so diligently created. During the evening, while they listened to the soothing Four Artists of Sounds, a jazz quartet, and, after dark, watched a swinging fire dancer named “Charity,” everyone on hand seemed ready to mix politics with pleasure.
The fate of Brooklyn’s loft tenants, as several speakers noted, remains in the slippery hands of Albany’s state legislators. That Mel Miller, former Speaker of the Assembly, is now the LiveWork Coalition’s lead lobbyist shows the group’s political moxie. Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Bushwick, Chair of the State Housing Committee and another key LiveWork ally (and co-author, with Greenpoint’s Joseph Lentol, of Bill A5580 which legalizes the loft tenants), led off the evening’s lineup of speakers. Only half-jokingly, Lopez suggested that the Coalition “have Mel Miller move in here, call up Shelly (Silver, current Assembly Speaker) and say ‘they’re trying to evict me.’” Why? Because “nobody is going to evict a former Speaker.”
When it came his turn, the wisecracking Miller first roasted Lopez and all the other local politicians on hand. He soon turned serious, vowing that even though “we haven’t been able to deliver yet, we will—because we deserve it.” The Loft Law bill is caught up in the deal-making that happens behind the scenes in Albany—a Byzantine process, to say the least. However, “rent regulation,” or what Miller described as the real key to loft as well as all tenant protection, will be on the table next year. And “legalization,” he said, ultimately will mean little without “affordable rent.”
LiveWork coordinators Peggy Reynolds and Sara Wolinsky honored all of the Coalition’s political allies on hand, a roster that also included city Councilwoman Diana Reyna, Assemblyman Lentol, a representative from Chelsea state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried’s office, and Martin Malave-Dilan, who is running for State Senator from Bushwick and Cypress Hills this fall. Along with Lopez and Miller, each received an original piece of “artwork”: a black plastic water tower, just like the ones seen atop many local warehouse buildings, mounted onto a wooden plaque. It was a gift given in good-natured solidarity, and the Coalition—and, perhaps, tenants across the city—can only hope for even happier returns.