To the Editor:
We are excited to write in support of El Barrio’s Operation Fightback and Artspace’s collaborative effort to renovate PS109 into 64 units of affordable live/work space for our local artists and their families. Unfortunately, a recent op-ed in Tiempo erroneously reported that 50% of the units would be market rate. In fact, ALL 64 units will be affordable, meaning that those artists who qualify will be earning at or below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) – that’s at or below $38,400 a year.
excitement expressed here is in our opinion is a perverse result of carelessness with accuracy and a manipulative distortion of facts.
[Area Median Income cited is for an area different from the immediate surroundings of PS 109. East Harlem media income is approximately $22,000/year (NY Times, Aug. 29, 2004). Even If the "Area" is the entire borough of Manhattan, the figure would be woule be $29,040, which is 60% of Manhattan's median household income of $48,400, according to the NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey, 2002.)
[Furthermore, NYC generally requires that at least 50% of housing developments be at market rate, in order to subsidize the "affordable" portion. If less than 50% is market rate, it could only mean that the taxpayers are to a greater extent subsidizing the
"affordable" rents for the specialized constituency..
[Recruitment for Artspace is not confined exclusively to currently East Harlem-based artists, so that the culture of the incoming population will likely alter the culture of the current community. The fact is that Artspace will get to define who qualifies as an artist fit to reside in their new specialized community.]
The PS109 project is a visionary partnership between El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, a group that has served our community for over 20 years by providing low-income housing and social services, and Artspace Projects, the nation’s leading nonprofit developer for the arts.
These two organizations have come together to transform an abandoned building into a new center for arts, culture, and education that will help
anchor a new cultural corridor in El Barrio/East Harlem.
[In fact, Operation Fightback mysteriously contacted Artspace, which is based in Minneapolis, and maneuvered Artspace into a No-Bid proposal to privatize a Public School building, and prevent its restoration to a school which can provide 1,200 educational seats much needed by the upcoming El Barrio generation. With all due respect for Operation Fightback's work in many areas, it turned down over the years of struggle every request for even the slightest participation in efforts to save the PS 109 building.]
We understand the disappointment of those who had hoped to see PS109 returned to use as a public school--we share that disappointment. But, it would be prohibitively expensive to adapt this 19th century building to the educational needs of children in the
21st century. Understanding that the City of New York and the Department of Education have decided that renovation of the existing building is not a viable option we welcome El Barrio’s Operation Fightback and Artspace’s plan for PS109, which will save and refurbish this beautiful and historic building.
[The false implication here is that because PS 109 was built some 100 years ago, it is not suited as an educational facility in the lofty standards of the 21st century. Actually, the school was expertly designed by CBJ Snyder with optimum architecture for education, regardless of the number of the century, along with artwork that boosts self-esteem and adds an incalculable psychological boost to the educational environment. "Modern" construction and architecture tends to subordinate such functionality to bare-bones efficiency, which is more of a fictitious accounting
perspective. The Artspace proponents admit that their plan is at the expense of the building's use as a public school. They also falsely claim that restoring school space is more expensive than building new space. But Please notice, they do not mention any new construction to compensate for stealing the building from its original educational purpose.
[One of the reasons PS 109 was saved was that the School Construction Authority was forced to admit that the restoration the PS 109 building would cost a fraction of constructing such a building anew.]
In the end, this project will create affordable housing, strengthen our cultural infrastructure, and provide much-needed community gathering and education space. Furthermore, there is a serious effort to incorporate green technology in this project-- something we all welcome. We are
delighted that El Barrio’s Operation Fightback and Artspace Projects have taken on this challenge on behalf of our community, and we fully support this innovative project.
[Finally, it must be noted housing, affordable or otherwise, is functionally devalued if the residents have inadequate schools in the surrounding community to which to send their kids. Artist space in Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Williamsburg and many other communities, has effectively provided the first foothold in a gentrifying process, ultimately driving out low-income neighbors. We are all for Artist space in principle, but sometimes, as in this case, community preservation and education must take priority.]
Congressman Charles B. Rangel 15th Congressional District
125th Street #737
New York, NY 10027
Hon. Jose M. Serrano, New York State Senator
157 E 104th Street
New York, NY 10029
Hon. Adam Clayton Powell, IV New York State Assemblyman
87 E. 116th Street
New York, NY 10029
Hon. Melissa Mark Viverito Councilmember, New York City Council
New York, NY 10007