ArtCondo’s Michele Gambetta on Rent Stabilization and Artists’ Spaces in NYC

June 12, 2015

With the recent news about staggering rent increases in New York City and rent-stabilization laws set to expire on Monday, June 15, New York-based artists are talking again about how they can afford to live and work in the city.

The current issue of Visual Arts Journal features an article on a number of organizations and activists that are working to find and promote affordable living and working solutions for creative professionals. SVA Close Up recently caught up with another like-minded individual: alumnus Michele Gambetta (MFA 2000 Fine Arts), founder of ArtCondo, an initiative aimed at helping artists purchase property they can develop into shared gallery and studio space.

michele200What are your thoughts on the possible expiration of New York’s rent-stabilization laws and the controversial 421a developer tax break?
I think rent stabilization and rent control are very important for New York City. They enable individuals who have invested their lives here—as well as families who have been here for generations—to stay in the city, and they support diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods that make it an interesting and creative place to live in. For me, the pivotal issue is community. Having people and institutions that can remain in the same place and build ongoing connections creates a social fabric that is culturally nourishing and significant. The city moves and changes all the time, but we need to nourish our roots.

The 421a tax breaks are outdated. They were originally created to give developers in the 1970s incentives to invest here when the city was in a sorry economic condition, but now that situation is reversed. Developers and investors around the world want to invest here. The United States has a stable economy, New York City’s real estate market is strong and large luxury projects garnering high price points, profit margins and EB-5 visas are attractive to foreign buyers who consider investing here a sure bet.

I think [Mayor] Bill de Blasio’s idea of tying 421a to affordable-housing development is a solid idea, whether it is a carrot, as some view it, or a stick. [But] we don’t need the mega-carrot that luxury developers crave.

The Artists’ Studio Affordability Project (ASAP) has been working on rent control for commercial spaces, which is another positive approach to this topic.

How, if at all, do the laws/tax break affect ArtCondo’s mission?
ArtCondo’s mission is to help artists—creative workers—purchase and co-develop buildings collectively, with a consciousness and sensitivity to surrounding communities and neighborhood residents. We want to create buildings that are mixed-income working environments to empower artists, and we’re in the midst of forming a nonprofit foundation offering rents at rates below the market. ArtCondo’s first project is the development of a 30,000-square-foot factory building in the South Bronx. The building is zoned as commercial (M1-2) and we want to make it into work spaces for artists, so the upcoming law changes would not affect us for now. After this first building we plan to work on live/work spaces that could potentially be affected by the changing laws.

What are your plans for future properties?
Our goal is to develop multiple ArtCondo buildings throughout the five boroughs, which will be owned and shaped by creative-working owners. Anyone who works creatively in any field can participate. The buildings will be professionally run, financially sound and interconnected, creating a unique and powerful creative community. Each building will have a different shared space—a gallery, a theater, a darkroom, a performance hall, a dance studio, etc.—and buyers in any one building will have access to it. The details need to be worked out, but we are looking into Fluxhouses (George Maciunas’ work in SoHo) and legal mechanisms to create a new model that addresses the political issues involved with space, artists, gentrification, the creation of value and the best ways to protect the vitality of the artistic environment.

How can interested artists get involved with ArtCondo?
They can visit our website, ArtCondo.com, and sign up to get on our mailing list. (A new site is in the works!) We have orientation meetings on the first Wednesday of every month where anyone interested can get an overview of what we are doing. At these meetings, ArtCondo artists interested in the long-range goals of the project work on issues and take conceptual steps forward. Everyone who works gets sweat-equity credits toward their future purchase, and we need more able-minded, creative souls, so please spread the word!

For more resources and proposals for making New York City affordable for artists again, read “Space Programs” in the Spring 2015 issue of Visual Arts Journal.

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