Activists keep up the pressure for Firestone feminist apartment

From left, Nancy Kogel, Pete Dolick, Fran Luck and Bill Koehnlein held up a jumbo-sized copy of the petition outside Tower Brokerage’s office before presenting a letter addressed to landlord Bob Perl requesting a meeting. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY  |  On Sept. 23, a memorial for Shulamith Firestone, the feminist visionary and author of “The Dialectic of Sex,” was held at St. Mark’s Church. Firestone died at the end of August. She was a member of the radical Redstockings group, a second-wave feminist and a longtime East Village resident who lived at 213 10th St. for 30 years. Feminists at her memorial suggested continuing Firestone’s legacy by creating a “feminist-in-residence” opportunity at her apartment, if the landlord would agree to offer the apartment below the market rate.

Fran Luck, executive producer of the “Joy of Resistance” multicultural feminist radio program on WBAI, lamented how changes in the neighborhood, particularly the rents, can no longer nurture the inspiration and inventive thinking of someone like Firestone.

On the afternoon of Wed., Oct. 10, Luck and others were on E. 10th St. outside Tower Brokerage, landlord Bob Perl’s office, with an enlarged copy of a petition signed by a bevy of renowned feminists.

“I’ve seen the hub of creativity, Allen Ginsburg, jazz musicians of the ’70s — but it’s not happening now because you have to make at least $75,000 to live here in the Lower East Side,” Luck said. The key cause of the loss of this creative nexus is lack of affordable housing, she added.

“We want feminist work to continue; we still need women doing this work,” she stressed.

The petition states that currently the average rent in the East Village is $2,100, which is pricing out the creative spirits that gave the neighborhood its unique character. The petition further notes that sister feminists and Shulamith’s friends and admirers would like to continue her legacy by making feminist work possible in the neighborhood, but need affordable rent.

The petition urges Perl to work with the core signers to create a “Shulamith Firestone Memorial Apartment” that would, in perpetuity, remain below the market value, not exceeding $1,000, and be reserved for a feminist-in-residence, such as an artist or scholar.

MNN TV producer Nancy Kogel and Bill Koehnlein of the Brecht Forum delivered a letter addressed to Perl asking for a meeting to discuss the request. Perl was not present, but another Tower employee in the office accepted the letter.

“This apartment would be reserved for a woman who is making an important contribution to the feminist movement that is not well remunerated” the petition reads. “Candidates for residence in such an apartment would be vetted by a committee of feminists drawn from the list [of signers] and would meet the same standards as any other tenant — with the exception of paying a lower-than-market-rate rent.”

However, in an interview on Monday, Perl said he stands by his earlier statements in this newspaper, in which he said he opposed the idea, and that every time a famous person dies in New York his or her apartment shouldn’t be made “a shrine.”

“My real estate taxes have risen 2,000 percent since I’ve owned that building,” said Perl, who purchased the property in 1993. “There’s no room to subsidize their specific goals. I contribute to charities in this neighborhood, and I’m not going to give a lifelong donation to a group that shows up — and no one even had the courtesy to introduce themselves to me. … I can’t believe this story still has legs.”

With reporting
by Lincoln Anderson

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10 Responses to Activists keep up the pressure for Firestone feminist apartment

  1. The landlord's taxes have gone up 2,000%? Oh, please. I can't believe such a ridiculous claim could go unchallenged. And even if his building taxes have risen, rents have gone up by a far larger amount. It was not that long ago that rents went for a couple of hundred dollars around here. Landlords like Perl (certainly not only him, he is only one example) have cashed in by charging astronomical rents because of the cachet of the activists and artists of the Lower East Side.

    By then turning around and claiming he can do nothing to help the artists and activists he has (and continues to) profit enormously from, he just shows himself to be a huge hypocrite. Again, not him alone — there are other landlords for whom this can be said. But Perl seems to especially be fond of promoting himself as some sort of "hip" landlord who lends support to artists. No, Perl is simply a parasitical mercenary personally profiting from the destruction of the neighborhood who then cries poverty.

  2. I recently had to move and look for an apartment and therefore can attest to the fact that the rents all over Manhattan but particularly in the East Village are sky high. The studios are so small one can barely fit a bed in them and they are running $1700 to over $2000 / mo. The idea for an apartment set aside for a feminist, someone who is continuing the legacy of Ms Firestone, seems like an excellent (though partial) solution to the problem of the scarcity of affordable housing. Perl should jump at this opportunity to support people in the neighborhood where it really counts and where he could make a real difference. And yes, I think all landlords should do this, when some famous important person dies and leaves the apartment available. It would certainly help their public image, which truthfully is quite dismal these days. I hope Perl can change his mindset and lead the way.

  3. Not only would a Firestone memorial apartment honor her legacy but it would also help maintain the character of the East Village. If rents go sky high the creative community will coalesce somewhere else.

  4. The landlord: "I contribute to charities in this neighborhood, and I’m not going to give a lifelong donation to a group that shows up — and no one even had the courtesy to introduce themselves to me." I was part of the group that delivered the letter and petition to Robert Perl; we *did* ask to speak to him and were told by his assistant that he was out of the office. In the letter, we requested a meeting with him, but he never responded. "Introduce themselves to me"? We would have done so; the rebuff came from him. As to Perl's whining about his 2000 percent tax increase, let's look at it this way: 213 East Tenth Street is considered a "class 2" building under the real estate tax code. In 2009, a tax rate of 12.596% was applied to 45% of the "market value" of any class 2 building. Let's say that the market value of 213 East Tenth Street is $1,000,000. So 45% of that market value would be $450,000–that is the amount on which taxes would have been assessed. At the 12.596% tax rate, annual property taxes would have been $56,682. Two (I repeat, *two*) market rate units renting at $2100 (the rent Perl is seeking for the apartment in question) would bring in $50,400 annually–almost enough to cover the real estate taxes. So, I'd like to see Perl document his expenses, and justify the $2100 rental rate he is seeking–and also explain why he cannot afford to rent one unit (just *one*–not two, not three, but one–in a building of about twenty units) at one-half the market rate. (NB: Rents in the East Village building where I live have hit $4500 a month, and this is in a walkup building. Pity the poor landlord.)

  5. What a great way for Perl to show his relationship to the Lower East Side, or perhaps improve it — I can't see why he would not jump at this opportunity, to be the landlord that continued feminist leader Shulamith Firestone's apartment as a testament to the character of the neighborhood in which he owns a building. Especially given the figures above — it's clearly no skin off his back. What a great opportunity to step outside the "greedy landlord" image for a moment and to create some real relief from the terrible housing situation in the city to at least one person, as well as to foster creative political work. Mr. Perl, I look forward to seeing your shift on this apartment.

  6. Mr. Perl complains that he is being asked for a "life long donation" to create a permanent below-market-rate apartment for a working feminist to honor the radical feminist legacy of Shulamith Firestone. But it is actually Mr. Perl who is the ongoing recipient of a permanent and lifelong donation from the neighborhood! The large profits he reaps from owning buildings in the Lower East Side/East Village would not be possible were the neighborhood not known as "interesting," edgy," "artistic." This is why people who can afford them pay ultra-exorbitant rents in order to live here. But the neighborhood's reputation actually rests on decades of struggle by untold numbers of people who labored, often for free, to make it such an "interesting" place. These include, but are not limited to: those who created, fought for and continue to maintain our community gardens

  7. (cont'd), who have created and sustained our poetry & theater projects, planted trees on every block, painted murals on buildings, strutted "wild style" on our streets, squatted/rehabbed buildings; the uncountable artists who made jazz, painting, poems & unclassifiable works of art–as well as the political/artistic cultures of the beats, hippies, radical feminists, punks, sexual rebels and so many more. Mr Perl has inherited, and is profiting from, the result of all this history. What he calls a "lifelong donation" actually represents an EXTREMELY SMALL FRACTION –and one he can well afford–of what he and others owe the people of the Lower East Side!

  8. How about a feminist building? The whole building!

  9. Dear Villager,

    What the community is asking of Mr. Perl is not charity, but justice on the part of those who have benefited off the legacy of revolutionary women like Ms Firestone. To offer up one of hundreds of apartments that Mr Perl owns as a testament to her and to the politics she stood for is not too much to ask and would be a sign of integrity rather than the shrewd opportunism that characterizes so much of the hip-capitalism that has over-run the LES community.

    Frank Morales

  10. Creating a living memorial, a space for another young activist to continue in the vein of Shulamith Firestone, could have the potential to give back not only to the immediate community of the Lower East Side, but perhaps be the nesting place for others to affect positive change in the world at large, as Firestone did with her work. I hope Mr. Perl will consider doing this for the overall benefits of it.

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