As rents begin to rise in Bushwick, its artists are being priced out. Just like Williamsburg a few years ago, artists are taking the L train again to find their next neighborhood.
At a recent free panel discussion titled Building a Better Bushwick held by the Bushwick Film Festival at LightSpace Studio, 5 panelists discussed the gentrification of the neighborhood and explained the importance of creating a dialogue between neighbors to build a better Bushwick. “From the comments and questions, there seems to have been underlining around housing, displacement and preserve the neighborhood,” said Jose Lopes, one of the panelists and the lead organizer of Make the Road New York, who pointed out the current concern of local artists during the discussion.
Just one block away, Steve Driebe, a graphic artist and co-owner of the print shop Silkys Screen Printing, a 4-year-old shop at 1087 Flushing Avenue, was concerned about the same thing. When Mr. Driebe moved to Bushwick from Williamsburg in 2008, he would never have thought that just five years later he would have to think about his next move.
“It’s crazy because the rent [in Bushwick] is going up so fast, it’s like Williamsburg five years ago, when I moved out of Williamsburg, same thing is happening here now,” said Mr. Driebe, who lives with three other roommates four blocks away from his shop. The monthly rent for this four-bedroom apartment has increased from $2,800 to $3,600 over the past five years.
According to Zillow, an online real estate database, the average monthly rent for four-bedroom apartment in Bushwick was $3,300 this past August, up 22 percent from last August. And the year-over-year growth rate of median monthly rent in Bushwick is 21.1 percent.
“[The rent] is super high,” said Nick Chai-Chang, a painter and tattooer who pays $700 for one-bedroom basement. Just like most artists in Bushwick, Chai-Chang has to work 2 jobs—3 days in Parsons Print Center and 4 days in Gnostic Tattoo— to support himself. “I work seven days a week. And only get five hours to sleep every night. So, it’s rough,” said Mr. Chai-Chang. To get more space in a reasonable price, he plans to move out of Bushwick this month.
“Monthly income is like nothing, because the rent is too damn high,” said Mr. Driebe whose average monthly income is $1,500. “I take what I need. I pay my rent, I feed myself.” As one of the artists who is thinking about moving, Mr. Driebe is thinking about Ridegewood for his next move.
Ridgewood, a working-class neighborhood just two blocks away from Bushwick, sits on the border of Brooklyn and Queens on the Queens side.
“It’s cheaper and near to Bushwick,” Mr. Driebe explained. The average monthly rent for a studio in Ridgewood was $1,500 this April, according to Zillow, the price was up to $1,600 in Bushwick and $2,450 in Williamsburg for the same period.
“There are 50 galleries in Ridgewood and Bushwick,” said Fred Valentine, owner of Valentine Gallery at 464 Seneca Avenue, who moved to Ridgewood in 1998 from Williamsburg. Mr. Valentine believes that Ridgewood offers more opportunities for artists. “About 4 blocks down here, there are 300 artists in that building.”
Already, questions have been raised about whether Bushwick is losing its artist community and becoming the next Williamsburg. “How can Community Board save the residents for people who live here? I don’t know,” said Nadine Whitted, the District Manager of Community Board 4.
“Williamsburg used to look like Bushwick, but things changed,” said Patrick Acevedo, an artist of Mnwka Gallery in Williamsburg. “We are losing art culture. Families are losing friends. And we also lose local small business…If there is something to blame, it would be gentrification.”