Thursday, May 23, 2019

I Am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant

East Village resident Susan Schiffman has been photographing the apartments of rent-stabilized tenants living in the East Village for her Instagram account, I Am a Rent Stabilized Tenant. She will share some of the photos here for this ongoing EVG feature.

Photos and text by Susan Schiffman

Tenant: Anthony, since 1990

Why did you move to the East Village. How did you find your apartment?

I am a fifth-generation New Yorker, and have had several apartments in New York City. On the side while working with the HIV epidemic from the start of the 1980s, I did volunteer workshops in prisons and communities in conflict resolution and community building. I saved, and in 1990, decided to travel and see what other people and organizations were doing to bring those torn apart by hate together, and to freely share the curricular that was inspiring me.

The areas of major conflict in our news at the time were Northern Ireland, Northern India, South Africa, Israel and Palestine. It was an open plane ticket, and I envisioned possibly finding another home, another call. The journey did reinforce fully the sense that the earth and all its people really are my family, my wider home.

I guess it was family that called me back. I came back. I had let go of my apartment like many of us foolishly do. I left the city actually two times before when I had had it with the grit, and felt that I would not be coming back.

After several months, I landed again at the end of 1990 looking for another place to stay. Back then, we didn’t really worry about it too much — we could always find a place.

My dear, late cousin Bill Donovan, two months apart from me, lived in this space. I grew up with Bill, loved him very much. I miss him terribly. He was a wonderful artist. He lived in this space, once filled from wall to wall with his paintings. He worked at Pearl Paint on Canal Street at the time. Bill fell in love about the same time I landed. He said, “I have to move out of my place, I just fell in love and it's looking serious. (Marriage and beautiful daughter Kirsten ensued.) Why don’t you take my apartment?”

I gave myself one month to live here. Absolutely tiny, but I could put my bags down and look for another place. I never intended to stay here. As you can see, I wouldn’t be able to have a wife or child in this apartment. It probably contributed to my being single these years.

I got really busy and didn’t have time to look for another place. The apartment was convenient. The location was good. I always felt my history here. My great, great grandparents on my mother’s side, the McAllisters, were married on Avenue B and Eighth Street in St. Brigid’s in 1867.

Since 1864, McAllister tugboats, barges and shipping family still ply the waters of our harbor. Our great protected harbor, the prime reason the Dutch settled and world trade became centered here. I worked in the shipyards and tugs as a youth, including a wild offshore adventure.

But as a teenager, I was right around the corner at the Fillmore East a lot. The Fillmore was a spiritual place in my memory. It was where black, brown and white kids met through music and carried the message of our time: stop war, get together. I have this apartment today only because of the way the universe works.

What do you love about your apartment?

I was reluctant to live here. I got over the fact that the apartment is tiny after traveling the world and seeing poverty in many areas of the world. I realized how precious it is to have a small space, to have a space of my own.

I give thanks for the space and for the refuge. Having a tiny place has forced me to not have clutter. What you see here now and under here and over there is because my beloved mom passed away. I haven’t gone through all of her boxes yet. It’s an ongoing process.

A small place enables one to focus. I’ve been able to produce all of my documentaries and writings in this little space. At one time all of the walls had to be covered with storyboards. It’s become a sacred space for me.

It has also become a refuge to rescue two beautiful companions — my cats. I do have a penchant for space. I spend a lot of time not in this space, but in our city and in our neighborhood. I am compelled to spend much time in this neighborhood's religious spaces.

Within a 10 minute walk of this apartment in any direction, there is a Tibetan temple, a Hindu temple, three Jewish synagogues, a Catholic, Protestant, Episcopal, Russian Orthodox, a few Latino churches, a Sufi group, and a Mosque, etc. I've learned to love these sacred spaces and their faith leaders, the true living preservationists of the culture and history of our neighborhood.

I grew up with parents who were very open, curious, loving and very appreciative of other cultures. My father was a world historian and my mother lived the phrase “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.” She saw the best and the light in all people. It's the gift from these two humans. I just love the different faiths being so close and the ethnic diversity in a place where I could pursue my passions and not have to spend all of my money and time worrying about rent.

My heart and efforts go out to the youth today. We've lost most of all the mom-and-pop shops due to rents doubling and tripling. We've had to fight hard the developers and irresponsible DOB and landlords, but my apartment remains a refuge and a haven.

For decades my passion is to help stop the secretive, non-democratic nuclear weapons industry, with it's false sense of security, lies, their unfathomable taxpayer cost and great current threat to all life, climate and humanity.

The last large work made in this apartment is my 2015 film "Good Thinking, Those Who've Tried to Halt Nuclear Weapons."

What initially bothered me about my little place here is I didn’t have those cavernous spaces over my head where expanding thought comes more naturally. I so appreciate space. This little spot on earth forms the center of the universe, of a wheel where I can then venture out.

If you're interested in inviting Susan in to photograph your apartment for an upcoming post, then you may contact her via this email.

1 comment:

Anthony Donovan said...

Oh, thank you very much Susan and EV Grieve, nd all my neighbors who make this living, active, caring community.

fyi: McAllister's was incorporated in NYC in 1864.