Acquaintances of Shulamith Firestone want the rent-stabilized apartment where the author and activist died this summer to be preserved as a residence for a low-income feminist, according to a petition obtained by The Local.
The petition, which can be read below, outlines a plan to earmark her fifth-floor walk-up at 213 East 10th Street for tenants doing “important” feminist work, who cannot afford current market rates in the rapidly gentrifying East Village. The rent would be no more than $1,000 a month.
Women’s liberation stalwarts like Kate Millett along with East Village literary agent Frances Goldin and Annette Averette, co-director of Sixth Street Community Center, are among those who have signed the petition directed at landlord Robert Perl, owner of Tower Brokerage.
Written by Fran Luck, executive director of the WBAI radio program “Joy of Resistance: Multi-Cultural Feminist Radio,” it notes that owners and developers of housing in formerly working-class neighborhoods have for decades “set aside” affordable rentals. Ms. Firestone paid about $400 a month, according to Mr. Perl, who said he had been planning to increase the rent of the next tenant in order to offset rising taxes imposed by the Bloomberg administration. A one-bedroom in the building, between First and Second Avenues, was recently leased for $2,095, according to StreetEasy.
Ms. Firestone, who in the 1960s helped organize women’s liberation groups such as Redstockings, New York Radical Women and New York Radical Feminists, was found dead in her apartment in late August. She was 67 and had long been afflicted with mental illness in the years following the 1970 publication of her influential feminist treatise, “The Dialectic of Sex.” Her book embraced technology as a way of freeing women from “the tyranny of their biology.”
“I think she was a difficult tenant,” said Ms. Goldin. “She was a disturbed person and would leave the water on and flood other apartments. She didn’t mean to do this, but if we could persuade the landlord that we could guarantee him a reasonable tenant, maybe he could become a hero. It’s worth a shot.”
Mr. Perl, who was Ms. Firestone’s landlord for 19 years (he said she lived there for a total of 30), considers himself as something of a “model landlord” and believes Ms. Firestone’s family “appreciates how she was taken care of over the years.” He pointed out that the city’s rent stabilization laws allow rent increases when tenants vacate regulated apartments, and said he wanted the highest allowable increase in order to begin renovation of the space with capital improvements.
Ms. Goldin said she didn’t know the names of prospective tenants for the proposed Shulamith Firestone Memorial Residence, but the petition notes that they would be “vetted” by a feminist committee and held to standards similar to those of other tenants. The idea emerged out of a memorial for Ms. Firestone held Sept. 23 at St. Mark’s Church.
Bowery resident Kate Millett, one of an estimated 200 people who attended the memorial, told The Local that the petition’s proposal for a feminist tenant “in perpetuity” at Ms. Firestone’s space would be a difficult one to sell to any landlord, but, she said, “We have to try.”
Other attendees of the memorial included Ti-Grace Atkinson, a former president of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, and author of “Amazon Odyssey”; Kathie Sarachild, director of Redstockings Archive for Action who is credited with creating feminist consciousness raising; and Alix Kates Shulman, author of “Memoirs of An Ex-Prom Queen,” a bestseller that also came out of second wave feminism.
Jacqui Ceballos, president of Veteran Feminists of America, lives in Phoenix and did not attend but said she is still receiving calls and e-mails from women expressing a desire to reboot the women’s liberation movement and to keep Ms. Firestone’s legacy alive.
September 30, 2012
Because…The Feminist world, the Art world and the Lower East Side/East Village Community have just lost one of our great visionaries–Shulamith Firestone–a woman who was able to remain, work and survive in her/our neighborhood for many years because she paid a relatively low rent….
Because…the average rent being charged new renters in our neighborhood is about $2,100., and had Shulamith tried to rent here today, it would have been impossible for her to find, live and work in an apartment she could afford…
Because… the Lower East Side/East Village environment is all the poorer for the loss, due to skyrocketing rents, of the kind of creative spirits that formerly gave the neighborhood its unique character–but who are now being priced out…
Because… Shulamith’s sister feminists, friends and admirers would like to memorialize her by making it possible for a feminist(s) coming after her to be able to live in this neighborhood and do feminist work here–such work usually being either unpaid or poorly paid, and therefore requiring an affordable rent…
Because.. it is well within “fair housing practices” developed over decades for developers/owners of housing in formerly working class neighborhoods to create “set-asides” of affordable rental units for those who cannot pay market rates…
Therefore…We, the undersigned, do hereby Petition Robert Perl, owner of 213 East 10th Street, and do strongly urge him to work with us to create a “Shulamith Firestone Memorial Apartment” that would, in perpetuity, remain well below market rates and which rent would, at this time, not exceed $1,000. per month; this apartment would be reserved for a woman who is making an important contribution to the feminist movement that is not well remunerated.
Candidates for residence in such an apartment would be vetted by a committee of feminists drawn from the list below and would meet the same standards as any other tenant–with the exception of paying a lower-than-market-rate rent.
Signatures (so far)
Kate Millett, Feminist, Author: Sexual Politics
Frances Goldin, Co-Founder Cooper Square Committee, Literary Agent for Mumia Abu Jamal
Carol Giardina, Professor of Hisory, Queens College, CUNY, Author: Freedom for Women
Kathie Sarachild, Director, Redstockings Archives for Action
Ti-Grace Atkinson, radical feminist
Nellie Hester Bailey, Director, West Harlem Tenants Council
Annette Averette, Co-Director, Sixth Street Community Center
Howard Brandstein, Co-Director, Sixth Street Community Center
Rosalyn Baxandall, Distinguished Professor, SUNY-Old Westbury
Fran Luck, Executive Producer, Joy of Resistance Multicultural Feminist Radio @ WBAI
Erin Mahoney, National Women’s Liberation(NWL)
Allison Guttu, Organizer, NWL, Women of Color Caucus of NWL, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Amy Kesselman, Professor Emerita, SUNY-New Paltz
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Professor Emeriti, California State University
Ann Snitow, Network of East-West Women
Marisa Figuereido, Redstockings
Jennifer Sunderland, Redstockings
Pete Dolack, Former Editor, New York State Green Party Newspaper
Bill Koehnlein, Brecht Forum
Marie-Claire Picher, Co-Founder,Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory
Nancy Kogel, MNN TV Producer, Reaching Out for Animal Rights (ROAR)
Source: The Local East Village