Hope @ 475 Kent

The Times indicates there may be hope for the tenants of 475 Kent Ave. The article looks at the buildings history with more depth and context than most other stories. What comes out is a history similar to that of many other informal/non-legal artist buildings in NYC, a history which shows the tremendous value that these tenants added to the property.

“Painstakingly, foot by foot and floor by floor, the three began breathing life into 475 Kent. Colonies of rats were chased out and puddles of pigeon droppings mopped up. Windows were unsealed to reveal startling views of the Manhattan skyline, and of the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. Pipes were stretched; walls were built.
Word spread, and more artists followed. Ms. Masters moved from Dumbo in 1998, building studios on the seventh floor using money that she said she received from a different settlement with Mr. Guttman. The boxy, soaring building soon became a place where ascendant and established sculptors, writers, filmmakers, musicians, printmakers and photographers worked, collaborated and thrived, and became enmeshed in one another’s lives.”

The residents of this building were not responsible for the city’s failure to provide safety in this area over the years. They also were not responsible for the lack of transit and infrastructure investment that made such a potentially valuable area undervalued and they certainly were not the creators of the antiquated zoning laws that barred mixed use residential development in the area. In fact they were one of the major groups to see the areas true value and unlock that value by deciding to live there. Now that the city has woken up to the value they helped create, its pure injustice to kick them out.

The just solution, for most of these buildings is at minimum some kind of buyout situation, which recognizes long term residents as de-facto co owners of the properties they helped make so valuable.

2 Comments so far

  1. An Observer (unregistered) on February 29th, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

    I agree with everything you’re saying, but city government is just not interested in changing zoning for these buildings to allow live/work situations. Yes, they did it in SoHo in the 80’s but that was a different city government and very different times for the city (and even then it was an uphill battle). Also in no bizzarro universe will anyone ever recognize partial ownership interest for tenants of a building, no matter how many improvements they’ve made. You may still be entitled to compensation for up-to-code improvements out of rent, but what you’re suggesting is fantasy.

    We all want there to be a real bohemia in New York, but increasingly I see that it’s just flat out impossible to be a working artist in this city (unless you’re independently wealthy or "funded").
    I know it may be hard to leave the city you’ve grown to love in spite of itself, to leave the friends you’ve grown close to while communally enduring the constant shit-storm of living in here. But it’s time to go. You don’t have to put up with living here. There are other cities that are cheaper, more exciting and that care about artists (Berlin). Do the math, it’s just not worth it here anymore.

  2. john morris (unregistered) on March 1st, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

    Sad to say, that I have to agree with you. The economic situation is totally different now. Even if the city did want to allow freer zoning to allow live work situations for artists, the supply and demand situation would still put most buildings out of an artist price range.

    The thing about this that is so unjust is that the role artist’s played in the city is one of the major reasons that the city is now in the desirable place it now is in. Every building is different, but in a lot of cases, the owners owe something to these tenants. Many of these owners wanted to break these zoning laws and turn these areas residential, but didn’t have the balls or muscle to do it on their own- so they used the artists to create facts on the ground for them.

    The role artists played in breaking these laws produced value far beyond any renovations they did.

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