Advocates Are Born
By the 80s, "loft living" evolved from being an austere necessity for struggling artists into a fashionable and luxurious way for people in law, advertising, and other more lucrative professions to live in the city.
Since no leases were rent stabilized—indeed, they weren’t even residential leases— landlords doubled and tripled rents, sometimes refusing to renew the leases altogether in an effort to force out the pioneering artists to make room for more affluent tenants.
THE BIRTH OF THE LOWER MANHATTAN LOFT TENANTS ASSOCIATION
Artist tenants organized and formed The Lower Manhattan Loft tenants, now NYC Loft Tenants (now NYC Loft Tenants, still an excellent source of advice and support) and fought back in housing court over a nearly decade long period, at which point they were able to secure the passage of The Loft Law, which protected tenant equity and their rights to stay in their homes. Since most of the tenants needing protection at the time were artists, the law required artists to get "certified" as artists by the Department of Cultrual Affairs.
The law required landlords to bring buildings up to code. In Michael's case, it meant installing skylights - since he was on the top floor - to satisfy the requirement to have a window in each bedroom, moving the bathroom inside the loft, and installing a real intercom system. An automatic elevator serindipitously replaced the manual one since the landlord bought the Village Voice at the same time and decided to move them into the vacant floors. After all the work was completed, the landlord was allowed to pass some of these costs on to the tenants in the form of a 10 year rent surcharge, and the lofts were folded into the rent stabilization system.
As an early LMLT member, Michael learned much of what he today knows about community organizing. To see how this struggle continues even to the present day, see Loft Tenants Get Another Shot at Legalizing Their Homes.
THE FIGHT TO KEEP FRACKING OUT OF NEW YORK STATE
Little did Michael know at the time that he would be putting his organizing skills to use two decades later in the fight to ban fracking in New York State.
When he first learned in 2008 that the 125-year-old farmhouse in Sullivan County NY that he and his wife owned was sitting in the Marcellus natural gas fairway, he joined with thousands of others to keep fracking out of NY State by augmenting his professional focus in healthcare and wellness advertising with environmental advertising and advocacy. He organized symposia in Pennsylvania on the health risks of fracking, and made presentations before subcommittees of the State Assembly, Senate and New York City Council arguing that fracking was primarily a health issue, arguing that the gas industry should be held to the same regulatory standard that the FDA holds the pharmaceutical industry to. He wrote, directed and produced a 30-second ad about protecting drinking water for The Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Yoko Ono then picked up the 30 second spot and paid to have it run in the New York City and Albany markets.
HOW WILL THE CITY OF NEWBURGH COPE WITH GENTRIFICATION?
Gentrification is a fact of life, and as Newburgh develops, it will become an issue to contend with. Emerging, enlightened leadership in the city can provide the tools that brings efficiency to onerous regulatory processes that will make it easier for people to participate in the building of their homes and businesses at an individual scale and to build and preserve community character and diversity.
Advocacy will be an important part of dwellstead's work as we seek to promote the concepts of lean urbanism, partner with local community organizations and advocates, as well as push forth an innovative piece of housing legislation in the near future.