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Jul 21, 21

Brooklyn, NY: Local Residents Reclaim Empty Commercial Space

Report on the reclamation of an empty commercial space in Brooklyn, New York. For more information and updates, follow The Gym.

BROOKLYN, July 20, 2021 – Today, an affinity group of local residents chose to access the ground floor commercial space at 1083-5 Broadway in Brooklyn, New York. The space has sat empty since August 2020, when the landlords harassed and removed a community and organizing network known as The Gym. We continued daily operations on the sidewalk, storing supplies in the upstairs tenants’ hall and distributing hot meals, PPE, hygiene kits, diapers, clothing, legal, medical, housing, and cash assistance to and with our neighbors.

We demand that the landlords, Dodworth Development Corp of 305 North Avenue in New Rochelle, immediately turn over usage of the space to those of us who have cared for their property and each other for the past year. These landlords are integral to the systematic exploitation and neglect of Broadway/Myrtle’s corridor since the 1970s, when blackouts and fires devastated the area. Our neighborhood is not a playground for speculators and developers. It is a dynamic place full of people whose existence the city resolutely ignores.

Despite large populations of multi-generational local residents, unhoused people, overcrowded ‘supportive’ housing, and vibrant social street life, we have absolutely no public facilities. The government of New York City reserves those for the wealthy, encouraging developers to capitalize on the city’s neglected areas while displacing those who cannot afford the outrageous price-tag of privatized amenities. Within a 20+ block walk of here, we have NO: public bathrooms; water fountains; shade; green space or park; place to seek relief from weather extremes; place to sit down and socialize, indoor or outdoor, without spending money. We don’t have an NYC Cooling Center. We didn’t get open streets when the city shut down. Developers just closed the Food Bazaar at Broadway/Myrtle, the only real grocery store with affordable, fresh food.

Our landlords own real estate under various holdings all over the city. They made a $14,000,000 sale last month as part of Jerome Avenue’s rezoning in the Bronx, another neighborhood they’ve ravaged with displacement and speculation. They bought their buildings in the ‘70s, paid them off for change in the ‘90s, and are famously neglectful and bullying.

The city is spending and scrambling to reopen for tourists and the wealthy. Meanwhile, New York has paid $0 in hard-won rent relief, eviction and unemployment protections are expiring, 1.4 million New Yorkers are behind on rent, and the COVID Delta variant is endangering even vaccinated lives. In the luxury ARTEL hostel turned for-profit COVID shelter across the street (all part of city/developer schemes for profiting off environmental brownfield sites), our friends are being told to throw away their belongings and prepare to move back to unsafe congregate housing, despite a 14% vaccination rate shelter wide. Landlords are hiding 50% of available
rentals from the market, keeping housing falsely unattainable. And all of this is taken as “back to normal,” which, in a city where profit rules over human lives, it is.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen ample evidence that the city can respond quickly and decisively when it chooses to, where it profits. It can lift zoning restrictions and subsidize outdoor dining structures for the restaurant industry, some of which could be fully functional as housing. It can build a working, navigable website for the wedding industry (while the Emergency Rental Assistance Program application portal remains notoriously confusing, buggy, and painstaking). It can divert traffic and open streets.

We demand the city apply the same immediacy to the housing and resource crisis that the vast majority of its residents face every day. There is enough empty, safe, accessible housing for everyone in New York City. We demand an end to the speculative market that brings people with means to the city just to pay absurd rates and keep stable housing out of their neighbors’ reach. We demand the city give itself back to poor and working class people, support local organizations and tenants across boroughs working on their own housing solutions, stop being puppets for the developers and real estate lobby who have owned them since the 70s, and sign Intro 146, a bill that provides the bare minimum of allowing our neighbors to actually use their vouchers to secure housing, now.

We stand with our neighbors, and all the individuals, organizers and affinity groups working to liberate this city. We encourage others to organize where they are and with the tools at hand, and to connect to others and to us for continued support. Together we have everything we need.

photo: Hannes Richter via Unsplash

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