OPINION: Was city’s promise to Soho artists fake news?

BY HARRY PINCUS | As the only certified artist in residence (A.I.R.) still living in a co-op that some artists founded in 1975, I am currently in the process of being deported from the small loft that my family and I own, and have spent decades sanding, scraping, painting and, most importantly, legalizing.

An original stock certificate, an original lease, stamped and completed permits, and even a passed audit and a “letter of completion” from the New York City Department of Buildings, mean nothing to the wealthy new residents of my building, who are hell-bent on turning an obscene profit, and feel entitled to flatten anyone who stands in their way.

How The Villager reported the rebirth — and upscaling — of Soho, which had been an abandoned former manufacturing district before its empty buildings were colonized by artists. (File photo)

I have no misconceptions about what “Soho” has become, and no particular objection to removing restrictions against nonartists, who are the only people who can afford to come here today.

That said, many of these new arrivals are clearly here to throw out those of us who pioneered a harsh and forgotten old stretch of factory buildings, way back in the 20th century. The protections that the City of New York promised us with the original Loft Laws for Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists (J.L.W.Q.A.) must stand. We created “Soho” and now we need to be protected against the beast that we inadvertently created.

I was living in a ’58 Chevy purchased for 100 bucks from a bereft horseplayer when I moved into a deserted harpsichord factory. It was cold, and the oily factory pallets and flapping doors provided more comfort than the Chevy, which had been broken into on Avenue C.

A life as an artist was taken as a calling, and an artist had no assurance of ever earning a living. After all, it was a gang of crazy artists who rescued these “Soho lofts” from Robert Moses’ postwar highway oblivion.

The City of New York created a covenant with artists, by passing the Loft Laws and the A.I.R. requirements, which also greatly benefitted the city by enabling the rehabilitation of a derelict section of Lower Manhattan. We assumed that our homes and families would be protected by the A.I.R. requirement, and couldn’t possibly imagine that these protections would be rescinded just as we greet the dawn of our old age.

Today, the rule of law is apparently fake news, and mega-real estate interests announce the doom of anything that is not money through the flapping tongues of our elected officials!

Pincus is an award-winning illustrator and fine artist

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