In recent decades, some artists have created opportunities for developers and neighborhood gentrification, while experiencing instability and alienation, often viewed as a Bohemian lifestyle that serves to stimulate creativity and ability for self-expression. We have learned that Community Land Trusts, co-housing, intentional living, and cooperatives, among other sustainable housing models and strategies, can bring resilience to neighborhoods rather than displacement.
Why can’t artists stay put? Because short term leases end and rents go up. Why doesn’t The New York City Loft Law keep neighborhoods affordable? Because Loft Law buildings are few in number, exclusive, and do not have restrictions on resale for profit. Buildings and individual residences are sold on the open market, fueling real-estate speculation, and driving real estate prices up for everyone. Why don’t affordable housing organizers see professionalized artists as a powerful group? Because we haven’t demonstrated our ability to organize and contribute as responsible, committed neighbors. How might we stay? How might we frame housing as a human right?
If you are an artist, you are one of the 140,915 artists in New York City. This may seem like competition for your art career or your job search, but it is good news for your ability to help stabilize the communities we live in. You and other artists and educators form a New York Cityvoting bloc upwards of 700,000 people strong. We can create a project for radical reimagining of land ownership and urban spatial politics, an anti-eviction network, worker-owned cooperative businesses, barter exchanges, and innumerable other collaborative initiatives. Artists have done this in the past, and we can do it again.
- Artists who are professionalized with BFAs, MFAs, and PhDs can expand the term “artist” by including creative people who do not have degrees or itinerant lifestyles associated with being an “artist.” Artists can refuse to be represented by such descriptions as “pioneering” in “empty” neighborhoods, and instead form alliances with artists who want to be long time residents in naturally occurring cultural districts.
- Artists can resist offers for short term exhibitions in neighborhoods and storefronts awaiting redevelopment. We can speak out against developer-led gentrification where artists serve planners and developers who profit from our resourcefulness, creativity, investment and labor.
- Artists can urge elected officials and government agencies to require developers to make permanent, truly affordable housing, rather than giving tax breaks to developers whose “affordable” housing units in their market-rate projects only remain affordable for a limited period of time.
- Artists can stop accepting rising rents and evictions in isolation, joining and creating rotating credit and savings associations, and anti-eviction networks.
- Artists can join existing coalitions for affordable housing, and collectively demand that the city preserve, create, and support both truly affordable housing and commercial space, like the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development’s inclusionary zoning campaign.
- Artists can stand behind the policy brief of the Naturally Occurring Cultural District Working Group, seeing that cultural production and social change already go together, and that low-income people everywhere are looking for affordable housing and sustainable, vibrant, and diverse communities.
- Artists can learn about ways to take parcels of land off of the speculative market forever, working with groups like the New York City Community Land Initiative.
- Artists with social, cultural, and financial power can urge wealthy art collectors and philanthropists to consider land-based philanthropy, donating land and buildings to community land trusts.
- Artists’ groups that start capital campaigns for affordable space can connect their work to long term struggles directly, allocating a percentage of all money raised and all press opportunities to the larger movement for affordable space. Beware this headline: Artists Solve Affordability Problem (for themselves)!
- Artists who make art about housing or real estate can connect interested viewers and press coverage to long term initiatives.