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NYC Artists May Eventually Get Affordable Housing; Roadblocks Persist

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New York is a hotbed for artists and all other creative types, but being an artist and being able to still pay the bills can be challenging. It’s not unusual to see artists also working other jobs in order to get by, at the expense of living in voluntary poverty. The importance of art to the city and the resources and opportunities for artists are hard to ignore, which is why politicians have talked in the past about making sure art and artists aren’t ignored.

A few years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested making 1,500 units of affordable housing that would be set aside for all types of artists.

At the 2015 state of the city, the mayor spoke about the importance of not letting artists slip through the cracks. ”We know that New York is the city it is today in part because of the contributions from generations of artistic visionaries who at one point struggled to make ends meet.”

More than three years later, de Blasio’s vision seems to be harder to make a reality when push comes to shove. Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen talked at a Crain’s event about how the federal Fair Housing Act interferes with de Blasio’s goal because setting aside housing for only one group of people could go against the act. Landlords are not allowed to discriminate against people on most grounds, like race or religion. Even though the intent in de Blasio’s proposal is to take care of a group in need rather than discriminate against a group or groups of people to make sure they can’t get housing, it could still fail to comply with the act. The city in the meantime is using a task force it created that spans a few different agencies in order to try coming up with some way to make this idea work without violating any rules.

“This is something I wish we had made more progress on,” Glen said, adding “and we are committed to doing so.”

Even if New York can find a way to make the plan work, the city would then have to decide how it determines who is and is not an artist. There needs to be a way to assess eligibility, make sure all types of artists are included, and make sure nobody games the system in order to score an undeserved affordable apartment unit. The city could try cleaning its hands of this potential mess by outsourcing the job to an organization existing beyond the city government.

“I don’t think every person who was cool and hip who moved to the Lower East Side in the early ’80s necessarily has a right to live there forever,” Glen said. “The flip side of that is, if you moved to the Lower East Side in the ’80s and you were an artist and live in a rent-stabilized apartment, you cannot be harassed out of there.”

By: Morgan Humes

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