Archive for the ‘Housing and Real Estate’ Category

Life As Artist IN NYC

With apologies, I am re -posting the first part of a long crazed rant, I did about the lives of creative people in a city that is so short of livable affordable housing and creative workspace. I aint claiming it as a work of art, but I hope it is worth reading. It’s one of the first posts I did on my Digging Pitt Blog after I moved to Pittsburgh and started a gallery. I now spend ime in both places.

I used the bird metaphor after reading this statement on the website of Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn.

The canaries in New York City’s real estate gold mine – the emerging arts – are no longer talking about the next show they hope to land, they’re talking about the next city they think they can land in once their current lease runs out.

But for many that lease on life has already run out. Affordable habitat in the cultural ecosystem is becoming hard to find. For everyone.”

Are the artists really just the tip of the iceberg or not. The city has historically treated them as an expendable group and never had much trouble finding new bird brains to come into the city. But, this may be changing.

I know all of you Yinzers are eager to hear about my little trip to NY. I met a few of the little birds there and this is sort of how I remember things. The setting is Kellogg’s Diner.

Me: Hi There little birds.

Birds: Hi.

Me: My, there are a lot of you in here and look at all the flocks on Bedford, but it seems a little thinner this year.

Birds: Are you buying? We need food.

Me: OK, I will try to help, but you have to talk to me. Bird number 3 a little male passes out on the counter– a little tuckered out from his three jobs.

Me: So why are you all here? Tell me little about yourselves.

Yellow dreadlock bird: I use chewing gum to confront gender is–

Me: It’s OK. Relax.

Pink and green Bird: I want to act. Isn’t this where I have to go?

Yellow d: I always wanted to be an artist. This is the place isn’t it?

Other Birds: No one has ever asked us this question. We Just have to because…

Me: It’s the lights isn’t it?

Greeny bird: Yes, I saw them on TV in Iowa.
Other Birds: And all the sound and some birds would dance and some would sing..

Pink Bird: Also, I feel more at home here. There are so many different colored birds.

Other Birds: And it’s going to work out– I know someone who served Andrea Ro ( other birds break in.. one says that’s a lie )

Me: So, Where are all of you from?

Other Birds: –India, Germany, Boston, Idaho, Mexico, Alabama, Long Island ( can’t remember them all)

Me: So, most of you aren’t from around here?

Old Bird: I ain’t but I’ve been here forever, seen it all.

Other Birds: No. most of us are not from around here.

Teeny bird: I came in on the bus a week ago and I am looki–

Other Birds: We ain’t got no room– Find your own nest.

Me: There is a slight shortage of nests? Huh,

Old Bird: Not like when I was young. I had a huge nest on 11th St. ( He meant more than one bedroom. ) and I did my art and the went to The Bottom Line and

Me: Didn’t they close?

Old Bird: Well, then the rent went up and I moved into The East Village.

Other Birds– Cool, tell us about CBGB’s ( closing )

Old Bird: Well it was rough. Birds wer shootin and wailin and things were dirty and all the garbage.

Middle aged Bird: Yes, I was scared to go there. I got a place in Soho. I wasn’t supposed to live there and it was empty there were no stores.

Me: And, what was your place like?

Middle Aged Bird: It was so raw, there was big hole in the floor and there was no kitchen and not much heat. But the space was big and I was handy. Me and my friends put in new wiring and plumbing. We fixed it up over a bunch of years and of course we lived there.

Old Bird: You guys did shows– They were so great, the place was so sincere and…

Middle Aged Bird: Well, we did a lot of great stuff. But then rich people started coming to watch us and we thought it was great untill, I had to move to Brooklyn.

Old Bird: They kick you out?

Black Bird: They kicked me out of Dumbo. I fixed my place up almost from scratch.

Other Birds: They Kicked me out of ( everyone chirping at once, so I can’t remember all ) Soho, Noho, Tribecca , Long island City, Hoboken, Harlem , Chelsea. Something has broken and a few birds start to cry. A few walk out they have to be seen at some opening or they want to try to do some art. Many have to leave, they live in places like Red Hook or Jackson Heights and they have to work the next day.

Me: So, can we get back to why you are here?

Dreadlock Bird: I need to be near the galleries that might want to show my work.:

Me: Do you get much art done?

Dreadlock Bird: No, partly because I can’t sleep with my four roomates working all hours and then after I get back from work ( an hour on the subway ) I have to be seen at a friends opening.
and I get into the studio around 10pm and–

Greeny Bird: He is just lazy and won’t stay up past three. If he was a commited artist-

Pink Bird: Yes. Ed told us that he is looking for serious artists who are willing to ( All the birds look down, they know they should work harder and then they would get a break. )

Me: So, If I get you guys right you are all here because you like the other birds and all the cultural exitement. You are here because the other birds are here. The filmaker birds and the dancer birds and the artist birds. Why don’t you all move?

Artists Under Attack

Here is the full text of the press release issued by the new “tenants association” at 475 Kent Ave as posted by Barry Hoggard on his blog.

The live-work building located at 475 Kent Ave in Brooklyn’s coveted waterfront neighborhood of Williamsburg was issued a Vacate Order by the NYC Fire Department on Sunday, January 20th at 7:30PM, the day before Martin Luther King day. Tenants were given until 1:30 in the morning to leave the building on a frigid January night.

475 Kent is a microcosm of New York City’s cultural and economic activity with creative professionals generating an estimated $15 million in annual revenue. The vibrant community of 200 working artists – photographers, architects, writers, musicians, sculptors, filmmakers, designers, painters, printmakers, etc. is under attack.

It seems that the D.O B. is intent on making sure people will never be able to return to their spaces until all repairs are made and the building has a residential C of O, a prospect that could take years and millions of dollars. This renders 200 inhabitants most of whom are self-employed, small business entrepreneurs, both homeless and out of work. This building has been consistently and viably supporting creative professionals lives and businesses for ten years. The illegal eviction at 475 Kent comes on the heels of the evacuation of 17-17 Troutman in Ridgewood. That people’s livelihoods and homes are being put in complete jeopardy makes one wonder if this is a trend and begs the phrase “follow the money”.

The events on Sunday night were precipitated when the FDNY inspected the basement of 475 Kent Ave. and “discovered” two 10′ diameter metal canisters containing grain used for making Matzo. The Matzo bakery has been in the building for more than ten years. The DOB and fire department have inspected 475 Kent Avenue regularly for the past ten years and would have had to be blind if they were not fully aware of the existence of a Matzo bakery and the grain. The presence of the grain resulted in a so-called “hazardous emergency” situation that gave FDNY and DOB license to vacate the building. When some residents and the landlord offered to alleviate the problem and remove the grain from the building on Sunday night the FDNY replied “you are not qualified to move the grain”. They then issued the vacate order.

What ensued was unmitigated chaos under the direction of our friends at the OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANGEMENT starring the New York City Fire Department, Department of Buildings, NYPD, Health Department, Department of Agriculture and the Red Cross. Their only area of competence was at holding closed-door, inter-agency meetings, in which no tenant representative was allowed, every two hours in their brand new location trailer. How many City agencies does it take to unscrew a lightbulb? We’ll let you know, we’re still counting.

Upon the issue of the vacate order 200 people scrambled to rid 110 spaces of their most crucial belongings. The following day people were given 6 hours access to remove their belongings, tools and equipment, a scenario that for most people who had been in residence for 5 – 10 years with substantial equipment and installations was completely untenable. From there the scene snowballed. On Tuesday January 22, tenants arrived with moving trucks at 10am having been told they would have another 6 hours access to the building. They found all entrances blocked by NYPD and FDNY and no one was allowed upstairs. Finally, at 1pm the leaders of each agency stood on the staircase and delivered their plan to the crowd:

– residents would be allowed into the building six people at a time for one hour, followed by another group of six people each being granted one hour.

Do the math.

No, we’ll do it for you. 200/6= 33.3 hours it would take to allow each person ONE hour access to collect their stuff. Then they shut down the elevators, insuring that the task was impossible. People, in a panic that this would be their last chance to save their belongings, began to carry equipment and valuables down ten flights of stairs, creating a real hazard.

As of Wednesday, January 23, the grain has been removed from the basement of 475 Kent Avenue, alleviating the immediate “hazardous” condition. Now the tenants have been allowed a final four days, six hours a day, to access the building. On Sunday night, January 27, the building will be padlocked prohibiting all further access for the foreseeable future. Why the building is safe enough to access for four days, but suddenly deemed unsafe again on Monday is a mystery to which DOB, OEM, FDNY has not provided an answer. Although requested repeatedly the DOB has never provided a complete list of the violations on the building. We know one of these violations is an inoperable sprinkler system, a problem that can mitigated with the presence of fire-guards while the system is repaired, allowing continued occupancy of the building.

Since the 1960’s New York City’s tacit urban renewal policy has been reliant on artist’s moving into derelict buildings in less desirable neighborhoods. The city does nothing to bolster or support economic activity in these down and out areas, nor do they do anything to create affordable, legal, usable space for live/work entrepreneurs. 475 Kent is a prime example of this kind of turn-a-blind-eye urban renewal that has been a boon to the City of New York. A decade ago South Williamsburg was a dangerous neighborhood. Once artists take the initiative to live on the edge and restore and renew unused real estate in what were marginal areas the City becomes predatory. The transformation of Williamsburg by the artist community into one of New York City’s most desirable neighborhoods encourages the city to move artists out as they calculate the tax revenue of luxury condo developers moving in. No one in any city agency cared about our health and safety ten years ago. Now that our building has become hot property the City is ready to muster all the powers of its many agencies to assist in the muscling of the property from the owners and the tenants. The tenants of 475 Kent Avenue call into question the hypocritical policies being put forth by the agencies of the City of New York. We cannot help but wonder what forces are driving this vacate and why the agencies are suddenly so concerned for out health and safety.

475 Kent Tenant’s Association

While, I really don’t doubt the extreme danger from the grain hazard which caused the evacuation; the amount of potential money at stake here and the history of NY real estate has to make one wonder. Does anyone have a rough guess as to what the potential value of this property is? FOLLOW THE MONEY IS ALL I AM SAYING.

475 Kent "Surprise" Evacuation

The tragic, sudden mass evacuation of a building occupied for years by hundreds of people is sadly nothing new in NYC. But, 475 Kent seems to be hitting a bit of a nerve and getting at least a bit of temporary press, perhaps since some it’s “squaters” were paying huge rents and work for media outlets in town. The buildings location on prime waterfront property in one of the city’s most trendy neighborhoods looks a might bit suspect, especially since the area was recently re zoned to allow huge expensive residential buildings.

Of course nobody had ever noticed all the windows with curtains, neither the landlord nor the city saw it? Well, the reason is pretty clear-that when the neighborhood was dead, unwanted and uncool for rich folks, people didn’t want to notice. In effect, these people were used by everyone as a way to break the stupid zoning codes. Now, the artists have done their job and it’s time to fumigate the area and let the cash roll in.

The artist/blogger Deborah Fisher puts it this way

The known unknown: now the Department of Buildings “knows” that a lot of people were living under commercial leases in the building. This tends to be one of those things that is technically illegal and that everybody knows about, but that nobody enforces. There are exceptions to this. DUMBO was effectively cleared of artists about eight or nine years ago using this Fire Department–DOB combo punch.

There are lots of questions.

Is 475 Kent being cleared out to make way for waterfront condos?

Will Bloomberg take a stand to protect artists’ homes or will he enforce the law?

Can the loft board do anything to help?

Will everyone have to move?

Will I ever go to another fantastic party in that building again?

Building Up in Queens

In spaces where there were 5 families will now be 100. I am talking about the trend in my Rego Park/Forest Hills neighborhood where parking lots and private single- and two-family homes are being knocked down for large residential buildings. Right across the street from where I live, there used to be a row of six one-family homes. Several months ago I noticed the houses were all empty. A couple of months ago, the houses came down. Now, there is a sign indicating that “luxury condos” are going up in that space. Just a few years ago, someone built a monstrosity of a condo building ON TOP OF a row of stores.

Around the corner, another group of private homes gave way to a new mid-rise. And a few blocks from there, an Associated supermarket lost half of its parking lot to the construction of a super-luxe amenities-laden complex. By the artist’s rendering on the sign [mind you they have a separate sales office in a store-front on Austin Street, Forest Hills’ main shopping street]. This last one has me scratching my head, because I can’t imagine who would buy into a building like this in a neighborhood dominated by Russian-language signs, Orthodox synagogues, and older women pushing shopping carts, and wearing house-dresses, head-scarves, and bedroom slippers.

But what really concerns me is 100 families in a space previously inhabited by 5 or 6. I am only hoping that the wiring and the plumbing will accommodate it all, without a major calamity. I am also picturing the supermarket aisles swelling with people, and the fights for parking spots, and battles between the Fresh Direct and FEDEX trucks, the Access-a-Ride vans and the old-timers with the Florida license plates.

This Has To Mean Something

I’m back in Pittsburgh and I won’t be back in New York for two weeks so I suppose that I shouldn’t be on here. According to the San Fransisco Metroblog, one of the most important publishers of Alternative and Queer literature, is moving from SF to Cleveland, where they will also be setting up a bookstore.

“So, after two evictions in two years, we’ve decided to take Suspect Thoughts Press and head east on October 1–to Cleveland, Ohio. (Yes, Cleveland, Ohio. It’s the new East Bay.) We’ve found an entire building for what we’d pay for a broom closet in the City, and we’re setting up an alternaqueer bookstore there as well. Thanks to many of our fellow alternative and queer publishers like Manic D and Cleis Press, we’ve got it nearly fully stocked. So, whenever in Cleveland, please come say hello at Suspect Thoughts Books (4903 Clark Ave or www.alternaqueerbooks.com).”

I have to think that this means something. I liked San Fransisco a lot, but it felt a bit like a museum to me. Do you think this is happening to New York too?

Domino factory issue; trees have stopped growing in Brooklyn

domino.jpg

The Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn has stopped functioning for a year or so. And just today my sister noted that there was a big ol’ sign plastered across the building with “Save Domino” on it. . . Without knowing the detailed background, I said “sugar factories aren’t exactly the most beloved of institutions.” But when I realized that they were protesting the $1.3 billion housing project; it was clearer why they were unhappy.

At this point though, I ask, is there any way the gentrification can be stopped? I’m all for the protesting and putting up a good fight. But after what’s happening on all fronts in Brooklyn and Harlem and the Lower East Side; New York City seems to be on the verge of eliminating poverty through exclusivity.

Gentrification, real estate, and increasing the gap between the have and have nots just seems like a life in the day of NYC’s neighborhoods. I just passed by another previously abandoned building that will soon be home to the East Houston street hotel.
(more…)

Nostalgic for “Tar Beach”

An article in today’s NY Times entitled “In Tanning Circles, the Roof is Becoming History” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/04/nyregion/04summer.html brought back memories of rooftop activities and suntanning on “tar beach”

When I first moved to Queens, “tar beach” became my tanning hangout. The sun beat down directly on me, and it couldn’t be more convenient. After about an hour, when the tar got too hot to make it comfortable to be there any longer, I got as much color as a day by the ocean. It was especially useful at the beginning of the summer, when my legs were too white to be displayed in public. There in the privacy my building’s rooftop offered, I could get my tan started enough to feel okay about walking out onto the sand after Memorial Day. But, alas; as I prepared to get my pre-summer base layer two years later, I found the door to the roof bolted shut. I was locked out of tar beach forever.

But the rooftop offered other pleasures. I and my neighbors went up there on July 4th, to watch fireworks, or just to hang out on a hot summer evening. As a child, the roof of my building in the Sheepshead housing project had a wonderful view of Coney Island,– the Cyclone, the Parachute Jump, and of course the Fourth of July fireworks. Our apartments weren’t air-conditioned then, so we would go up on a hot summer night to cool off. Just listen to the old Drifters hit song “Up on the Roof” and you will understand what the roof meant to urban-dwellers in the pre-AC era. Indeed, my parents told me stories of growing up in Brooklyn in the 40s and 50s, when entire families would bring blankets and pillows up to the roof for huge slumber parties of neighbors escaping sweltering apartments to all sleep together. One big campout. Think of the ramifications if people did that today. One can easily argue that air-conditioning ruined the community feel of the neighborhood. In the blackout of ’03, I met neighbors I never knew when we all gathered outside my building.

Most of the building roofs are locked now for safety. The Times also mentions a new phenomenon however. The roof, which is today is often not made of tar, but concrete or metal sheeting, has become prime real estate. Some have been turned into terraces, sun-roofs, and even sectioned into extra rentable amenities, even with cabanas.

I love air-conditioning, cell phones, and computers. But I admit to waxing nostalgic for the community on the roof or the front of the building where, perched in their beachchairs, the “building yentas” reigned.

It’s My Turn to Relate My Apartment Hunt

OK, now it’s my turn. It must be apartment-hunting time.
I have to give up my apartment in Rego Park, Queens. In 2004, I was diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In 2005, I spent $5,000 to have the tub ripped out to install a stall shower. But the time has come when I need a wheelchair to get into the bathroom, and the wheelchair doesn’t fit.

So I am looking for an apartment in Manhattan, and it must be accessible. Well, nobody seems to know what “accessible” means. It means something roomy enough to move my motorized wheelchair around, and it means a bathroom door that is not half the size of the other doors. There are apartments built for the disabled, but the waiting-lists are 10 years long. We never think anything will happen to us like a disabling disease. But it does! It happened to me, and if you think the NYC rental market is tight, try looking for a decent-size studio or one-bedroom for under $2500/month with a bathroom and kitchen wide enough for a wheelchair!! I don’t mean to play “let’s top this” but with the population aging and living longer, and people like me surviving past the 2-5 years’ life expectancy of an ALS patient, we really do need to make NYC more “accessible”!

chinatown loft

One year ago, I came to this city to look for an apartment. I had called up my friend from high school who was a broker and asked her to show us some places. When we came into her office, she said the usual schpeel about how our price range is unrealistic and how there are only three places she can show us.

The first place was in Alphabet City. For a suburban girl, the whole city seemed a bit like a dump, so Avenue C didn’t seem anything dumpier. The next stop was in East Village. I liked the neighborhood, but the apartments we looked at were ridiculously small. And I mean, small. I would have had to pay $1200 for a hole with a chair in it.

Usually the broker saves the best for last, so after seeing those three apartments, we were geared up to see the next one- on the “Lower East Side”. When we got off the subway we realized that we were in Chinatown. How did we know? Oh the Chinese signs everywhere and the umm, Chinese people. This was no LES- it was right by the Manhattan bridge- but what did we know.

The broker took us upstairs. When we came in, our jaws dropped. It was an empty space with windows. The walls were caving in, and so was the floor. There was trash everywhere. It was also obvious that no one had occupied that space since 1989.

“So, you can put a wall up here, and here, and over there. This can be a bedroom,” the broker told us, pointing to a corner.
“That’s not a bedroom, you can’t put a twin bed in there,” my roommate proclaimed.
“Welcome to New York!” the broker snapped.
“Are you fucking kidding me? And there’s no stove!”
“Well there’s a gas connection, I’m sure you can buy a stove.”

We were flabbergasted. I wish I had taken photos of this place, because it was amazingly crazy. Manhattan is a bizarre place. That loft was going for $3,000 a month.

how expensive can it get?

I’m looking for a new apartment… in Manhattan. That’s my first mistake.

Thursday I found a Craigslist listing for $3100 3-bedroom apartment in Gramercy. “That must be a lie” my future roommate and I thought. We called the broker who had posted the ad and he said that we could look at it that night, but we’d have to meet in his office first.
I’m already very familiar with looking for apartments on Craigslist. The broker lures you in with a magical, but fake apartment. All of a sudden it’s “not as listed”, but he has several better, more expensive places for us! (Just sign on the dotted line promising 15% of a year’s rent.) This guy was no different.

It appears that except for a few remaining places on the UES, there is no where to live in Manhattan. Even the broker said so. “There are just too many people living on Manhattan who make a lot of money.”

Stop making so much money!

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