Jules de Balincourt Issues Call to Arms Against Bushwick Gentrification

by Paddy Johnson and Whitney Kimball on June 9, 2013 · 2 comments Newswire

Tired of being flushed out of their studios and homes, this time, artists have decided to fight for their stake in Bushwick.

Artists William Powhida and Jules de Balincourt—both all-too-familiar with Brooklyn developers—have been stoking the flames over Facebook and Twitter this week, to a whirlwind of response. They’re proposing the collective purchase of a studio building, a project similar to that of Chicago based artist Theaster Gates. Gates has been gathering multi-source funding to buy and repurpose buildings by using a combination of non-profit funding and private investment. Given the trends in SoHo, Chelsea, the Lower East Side, and Williamsburg, artists need feasible plans like Gates’ to maintain and build enclaves in New York.

These plans started congealing on Facebook this weekend. Jules de Balincourt posted:

…wants to start an organization bringing bushwick artist together to form a collective of sorts in which artist buy buildings together in order to prevent what happened in Williamsburg….the tearing down of old buildings to be replaced by Miami look alike condos for suit and tie types who have nothing invested in the local creative community. Any suggestions? I wanna do something about this. Sick of seeing my friends get pushed out of the Wick!

So far, the Facebook comment has over 250 likes and 50 plus comments. de Balincourt promises a meeting within the next week or so, and people have started posting links to resources. Laurie Waxman’s article on FOOD, a Soho based artist run restaurant launched by Gordan Matta Clark and Carol Goodden in the 1970s and the website for the NYC Loft Law, a provision designed to protect loft residents being two notable examples.
The most substantive contributions have been left by artist William Powhida, who’s shared a Google doc in which he’s laid out a few ideas for a cooperative model:

  • A commercial building would be bought as a trust or corporation
  • It would have fixed, low rents for artists studios
  • It would use any accrued value to replicate itself
  • Extra expenses could help subsidize artist studios
  • It would be run with cooperative principles and pooled resources. The basic principle is stewardship: the founding artists would eventually walk away or end their term with retirement or death.  The main benefit for artists is stable rent and control of the property as a group.
  • The first step would be conducting a feasibility study

Kelli Williams also had a lot say, having spent some time trying to the same thing with neighbors in the 90’s:

I tried to do this with neighbors in the 90’s when I was living in Bushwick during the loft eviction scare. My advice is to start fresh with empty buildings. You will run in to a lot of problems with converting an existing building that will be no different than residential coop building problems under a non eviction plan. The tenants with the biggest spaces will probably be the people who moved in earliest pre-gentrification and won’t have money to buy them if the prices are based on square footage. Even if you did rig the prices to give them a break condo maintenance and taxes are based on square footage. And if the point is anti-gentrification you don’t want to be evicting people. You are also likely to run in to the low owner occupancy which is the bane of most condos and coops and it will make it harder for people to get mortgages and for the building to run its finances. The renters will want to stay on and while they will leave rent stabilization if that applies they will be covered by the Martin Act which will protect them from high rent increases and make them a drain on everyone else. If I am not mistaken the Martin act applies to all conversions even tenants who were not previously rent stabilized? I’m not sure. And if you had problems with the Buildings Dept. for illegal living the owners would now be the landlord of those renters and would have to deal with a possible lawsuit. Now in a rational world the people in loft buildings would get together and switch the spaces around based on who can pay for the best spaces so they don’t all get pushed out in the end. But the poorer person who built out a huge loft space in 1993 is not going to trade homes with the richer person has has a cut-up, tiny space they found in 2005. So you really are better off with a new building, hopefully one with favorable zoning because commercial mortgages are impossible for most self employed people. You could look in to affordable housing and artist housing tax breaks and other programs. LIC has some mixed use program with a tax abatement. Unfortunately Bushwick does not have as much mixed use zoning as LIC.

New York artists will have a lot to discuss as a plan of action is developed. We’ll be reporting, and adding to this conversation as it develops.


salkdfj June 10, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I’ve been involved in similar processes THREE times in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, each time one or two or three fantastically wealthy trust funder/financial spouse/successful artists realized that “Hey, I can buy this place myself and be in charge and get the best space and then have everyone else pay for it!”

And that’s what they did. And everyone else was fucked.

I wish them the best, I’d love to see it work. Having fancy art names in the lead will help keep the rich folks from stepping in and ruining it, the potential for public shaming is just oo great.

orienteering June 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Yes, because these artists didn’t gentrify Bushwick and push out people who actually needed affordable housing themselves just a few years ago…

This cycle of change and development is and has always been part of life in the city, and it is only getting worse. If you don’t like it, move away–there are plenty of amazing communities being built elsewhere in the state and in the country, and it’s certainly no longer necessary to be in NYC to be an artist.

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