Firestone ‘feminist apartment’ idea

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  A memorial for radical feminist Shulamith Firestone drew 100 to 150 people to St. Mark’s Church on E. 10th St. on Sunday. Along with Firestone’s family members, many prominent figures in the women’s movement from the 1960s and ’70s were in attendance.

“Feminists flew in from all over the country,” said a local feminist, who requested anonymity due to the private nature of the invitation-only event.

Firestone, 67, died toward the end of August. Her body was discovered in her East Village apartment possibly about a week after her death. In 1970 at age 25, she had shot to fame with her best-selling book, “The Dialectic of Sex,” which advocated for producing babies cybernetically in labs to free women from their oppressive gender role. However, she later descended into mental illness, shutting herself off from the world. She ping-ponged between hospital stays and periods living back at home.

According to the source, the idea was broached at the memorial of making Firestone’s fifth-floor apartment at 213 E. 10th St. a dedicated, affordable residence for an older feminist from the East Village. Firestone had lived in the rent-stabilized unit since 1992 and was reportedly paying a very low rent.

“The idea would be to earmark it for feminists who could not otherwise afford to stay in the neighborhood,” the woman said, adding the rent should not exceed $1,100.

She said they plan to reach out to Bob Perl, the building’s landlord, to see if an agreement can be reached. If Perl declines, she said, they’ll start a petition drive for the cause.

Perl, however, was not sold on the idea.

“For older feminists, living on the fifth floor of a walk-up house is not sensible,” he said. “It’s not really well thought-out. And who’s going to decide who gets to live there?

“In New York, a lot of famous and important people have died and shrines aren’t erected in their apartments,” Perl noted. “If there was a shrine set up for every significant figure who lived in Manhattan, there’d be a lot fewer apartments available.”

Perl said he was a good landlord to Firestone, implying that her living there wasn’t always easy on neighbors, though not stating that directly.

“You can ask her family if I treated her well,” he said. “I went out of my way to work with her and her family so that she could have as comfortable a life as possible.”

Perl said advocates for the feminist apartment can contact him at his business, Tower Brokerage.

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2 Responses to Firestone ‘feminist apartment’ idea

  1. Landlord Bob Perl, who stands to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars long-term from raising the rent on Shulamith Firestone's apartment from the $460..she paid to the $2,100. his rental office is quoting to potential tenants, is hardly in a position to be an objective judge of a proposal for a set-aside apartment in the name of Firestone that would be reserved for feminists needing affordable housing.

    The fact is that Firestone, an artist, writer and radical political activist, and later a troubled person, could not have afforded to live in this long-time home to so many creative people, had she tried to rent here now. Would she have been able to find time to write her brilliant book if she had to support the kind of monster rents people moving to this neighborhood must pay today.? Our neighborhood has been destroyed culturally and in human terms because of the greed of landlords charging the kind of rents that Perl charges. That's why his expressed concern over a poor "older woman" who may not be able to climb the stairs has a bit of a hollow ring.

    I was privy to the discussion of this idea–which was not fully presented in the article, and so should not have been prematurely rebutted–and Perl's objections to the plan are easily answered. Someone who COULD climb stairs ("older" is not the central idea; "needful is) could be found. Or, if Perl's only objection is about concern for the flights of stairs to be climbed, he could offer to set aside the next ground-floor apartment that becomes available in his building.

    He also worries that if all famous people in NYC had memorial apartments dedicated to them, "There'd be less apartments available," he opines, yet never admits his own complicity as a landlord who charges exorbitant (market rate) rents, in lack of apartment choices in this city.

    "The plan is not well thought out"? he complains. Fine, then sit down and help us develop a plan you would find more workable.

    While Mr. Perl does deserve some credit for making allowances for Firestone, one has to ask how many other talented and/or troubled people he has kept from finding housing by adding to the gentrification of the neighborhood?

    Perl is being asked to join in a "fair practice" of long tradition, in which 'market rate developments that come into working class neighborhoods are asked to set aside a certain number of "affordable housing units" in exchange for the windfall profits they are about to reap. And he is being asked to do this in the name of a great radical feminist–Shulamith Firestone–whose work he is purported to admire and who represents those who have been nurtured by this neighborhood when, because of its low rents, it could be home to the talented and eccentric.

  2. Another neighbor

    I have never met either Perl or Firestone, so I will leave it to others to judge the merits of the landlord's claim that he was a "good landlord" to her. But the destruction of the neighborhood by obscenely high rents is a very real one, as anyone who struggles to remain can attest.

    Landlords earn windfall profits because they can use the cultural cachet of the neighborhood to seduce renters into paying such enormous sums. Is it really too much to ask that a small gesture, concerning only a single apartment in one building, be set aside so that a deserving person who adds to the cultural and artistic flavor of the neighborhood be allowed to stay? I think it would be a very nice gesture on the part of Perl to sit down with those who are making this proposal and work something out.

    If Perl is the "good landlord" he says he is, I think this would be an excellent way for him to demonstrate this in deeds, rather than words. I hope he will do so.

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