Like all Burgeoning Arts neighborhoods ultimately do , Bushwick, Brooklyn is now feeling the threat of gentrification. Famous for its street murals, this former manufacturing neighborhood is home to many artiists’ studios and galleries. The overwhelming demand in Brooklyn for commercial real estate has caused most artists’ space to be priced out as commercial landlords either refuse lease renewals or outright evict these tenants. Unlike residential tenants, commercial tenants don’t enjoy much protection when a landlord wants to maximize its profits. What is unusual in this case is the shortened life cycle of this arts community given the Brooklyn boom.
Another unusual aspect is that the displaced artists are not going quietly. Activists and Politicians are not only protesting and petitioning landlords to save the arts spaces, but are now lobbying for legislation to force them to do so. The Artist Studio Affordability project is pushing for a proposal called the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). This would give certain commercial tenants the absolute right to renew their leases via system akin to residential rent-stabilization. The bill would provide for mediation to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants over terms and rent increases.
Although the SBJSA bill is is garnering support from preservation groups such as the Save NYC campaign, it is being just as fervently opposed by groups comprised of commercial real estate owners. REBNY has compared it to eminent domain, the government’s taking of private property. If the bill does pass, it will no doubt be met with well-financed constitutional challenges. Attempts at unofficial commercial rent control, although well intentioned, have generally not been stood the test of time. Loft Laws from the seventies being a prime example.
Even some organizations that support the arts don’t believe that this may solve the problem of displacing up and coming artists. They argue that establishing a static regulated arts district that is protected from financial realities will only lead to complacency and a monopoly by entrenched studios and galleries. These arts groups believe that the repurposing of industrial spaces and discovery of new neighborhoods contributes to the vibrancy and creativity of young artists .