By Reem Nasr
As the head of South of the Navy Yard Artists (SONYA), Ellie Balk is determined to find a permanent space for her group. But the organization, which is based south of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, cannot afford to stay there anymore and might just find itself east of that very same waterfront and out of the neighborhood.
“We can’t even afford a small space here,” she said. “It’s double the price per square footage as nearby Bed-Stuy.”
SONYA, a leading arts hub that services the communities of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, might be moving to a different neighborhood altogether, such as nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant. And although this is bad news for the artists based in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Balk said that it might provide opportunities.
“I feel like it actually is a great thing,” Balk said. “A lot of our members have actually moved out to Bed-Stuy and there’s a great energy there. Every time I hang out there I meet at least three artists, so there is a need to give them an artist coalition as well.”
The owner of a building at the intersection of Tompkins Avenue and Madison Street was looking for an arts organization to take a small space to work out of. But securing a deposit and paying for insurance would deplete SONYA and the organization had to turn the offer down.
“Our plan now is to focus on programming so we can be financially able to do this,” she said. “We’re planning a big fundraiser and hoping that the people we have helped will give back.”
Increasing rent, which is pricing people out of their apartments, is not a new phenomenon in Brooklyn. This is especially the case in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, two neighborhoods whose popularity has led to rapid gentrification over the past decades. According to a report compiled by the real estate firm Douglas Elliman, median sales prices in Brooklyn have increased 11.6 percent from the same period last year, setting a 10-year record for the borough.
Kristen Larkin, a licensed real-estate broker, explained that the lack of inventory in this part of Brooklyn has led to prices that are comparable to Manhattan.
“I won’t be surprised if people start getting priced out of Bed-Stuy because the market is getting so crazy,” Larkin said.
Lance Freeman is a professor in the Urban Planning program at Columbia University. He explained that moving as a result of gentrification is “expensive and destructive, but not unique to Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a traumatic type of relocation,” he said. “It’s similar to what happened in SoHo and the West Village.”
Kennis Baptiste, a Clinton Hill artist who is also co-vice president of SONYA, said the neighborhood has changed dramatically in the last seven years he has been there. He added that the offer in Bed-Stuy was at a very reasonable rate and worth the risk.
“I felt that this was an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up,” he said, “but the majority of the board felt that it was a little too risky at this time.”
Balk said that SONYA is still on the lookout for a home, but that won’t come before the organization has raised enough funds.
For more information about SONYA’s programs or to donate visit http://www.sonyaonline.org.