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Photo: Anthony Fomin
Is it time to revisit the idea of letting tenants buy their buildings?

In Massachusetts, the Covid-related eviction moratorium will expire October 17 with no plan to help tenants who have lost their jobs and can’t pay rent. The C.D.C. moratorium is in effect, but with many stipulations. Landlords need relief, too, but there has to be a better way than eviction court, where it will all end up. It’s especially worrisome given some new research showing many tenants lose in court because they haven’t received notice of their court date and therefore don’t go.

Clyde Haberman at the New York Times revisits the possibilities of a tenant-to-ownership program.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic rang down the curtain on much of the U.S. economy, times could be tough for the roughly 110 million Americans living in rental housing. … Nearly four million eviction petitions were filed each year. On any given night as many as 200,000 people were without a home.

“In the pandemic, losing shelter is an ever-present threat on a far bigger scale, by some estimates potentially affecting upward of 30 million cash-strapped tenants. A calamity of that magnitude has been averted, for now, under a moratorium on evictions imposed through 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But equitable and compassionate solutions to America’s chronic housing problems will clearly remain an elusive goal long after the coronavirus is conquered.

“One method with promise is explored in this video from Retro Report. … The underlying premise is a familiar one: giving people a genuine stake in their apartments and houses by turning renters into owners. The video focuses on two situations separated by half a century: in San Francisco, where the idea was not able to get off the ground, and in Minneapolis, where it has taken flight, albeit with an uncertain future.

“The San Francisco story dates to the late 1960s on Kearny Street, in a neighborhood known as Manilatown because of its many immigrants from the Philippines. There, the three-story International Hotel was home to 150 people, principally Filipino laborers who rented rooms for about $50 a month, about $380 in today’s dollars. In 1968 the hotel’s owners handed tenants eviction notices. …

“After nine years of turmoil and with the courts’ blessing, the owners evicted the hotel residents in 1977. … But the outcome could have been different. A year before the evictions, San Francisco’s mayor, George R. Moscone, suggested a new approach, proposing that the owners sell the hotel to the residents, who were to get the necessary money through a government loan. ..

“The mayor’s idea never really got rolling. … But the concept behind the Moscone plan had resilience, and in 1980 it became embodied in legislation passed in the District of Columbia: the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or Topa. It gave tenants or allied developers the right to be first in line to buy any building about to be sold by its landlord. Once tenants made clear they were interested, the landlord had to give them time to make an offer and raise the funds.

“Studies show that several thousand units of affordable housing in D.C. were preserved this way, for less than it would have cost to build new housing. …

“One place that has made the idea a reality is a low-rise complex in Minneapolis that houses 40 families. As recounted by Retro Report, the landlord sought to push out the tenants so that he could sell the buildings. But while lawyers duked it out, the residents took action, forming a collective to buy the complex, aided by city officials and an activist group called United Renters for Justice. The sale, for $7.1 million, was completed in May. A nonprofit group put up the money as a loan, and will manage the property for three years while the residents pay back the debt.

“Tenant leaders like Chloe Jackson expressed confidence in their ability to keep up the payments. Still, success is not assured, especially when millions across the country are out of work. If people who lose their jobs can’t cover the rent, why would they be in a better position to repay a loan?

“Some landlords have their own concerns. They are hardly real-estate giants. On the contrary, they are so-called ‘mom and pop’ owners with maybe a building or two. But they account for nearly half of all rental units in the United States. …

“What will happen once the C.D.C.’s eviction moratorium ends is anyone’s guess. Even before the pandemic, millions of Americans were crushed by their rent burden. … That is one reason Ms. Jackson embraces her new status, inherent risks notwithstanding. Yes, the loan must be repaid, she said. ‘But we are thinking as owners, our mind-set is as owners, and we’re ready to do it.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: ICA
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Watershed building is in East Boston, one of the communities hit hardest by Covid-19. In April, the ICA decided the most important thing it could do would be to provide food to neighbors in need. (Art projects for families get included in the bundles.)

Some artists seem more alert to human needs than the rest of us. That’s something my mother noted after my father had a debilitating stroke in his 40s. The painter friend and the poet friend seemed to more moved by what happened, more empathetic, than many others.

Certainly, in the current pandemic, we’ve seen people in the arts stepping up to offer all kinds of help. Here’s an example.

Grace Griffin reported for the Boston Globe in April, “With its galleries closed to the public, the Institute of Contemporary Art is using its Watershed outpost to feed families in need. … The nonprofit enlisted its catering company, The Catered Affair, to help with a donation drive.

“The ICA also recruited new donors to fund the project. The monthlong drive — launched in partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, East Boston Social Centers, Maverick Landing Community Services, Eastie Farm, Orient Heights Housing Development, and Crossroads Family Center — distributes family-size boxes filled with fresh produce and dairy products. …

“ ‘We know this is just a drop in the bucket of need,’ said ICA director Jill Medvedow. ‘We are pleased to help in this small way.’ ” More.

Then in late May, Andrea Shea followed up with a story at WBUR radio.

“Now the museum, its catering company and partnering community organizations in East Boston are extending their food distribution program through Sept. 3.

“ ‘What we learned in April … how hard hit East Boston residents are by COVID,’ ICA director Jill Medvedow said Friday.

The struggle to feed families is ongoing, and Medvedow said it highlights life-threatening disparities the largely immigrant East Boston community faces.

“ ‘Not having the nutrition that contributes to one’s health, to one’s ability to take care of your family, to that sense of dignity that everyone deserves,’ Medvedow said. …

” ‘I see this heroism around me,’ Medvedow said, ‘and I feel very lucky to help facilitate this. That’s my role.’

“About four years ago, when Medvedow and her staff embarked on transforming the 15,000 square-foot condemned building into satellite space for the ICA, they were dedicated to building relationships with the people who live there. ‘I never thought then that this would be the way in which we would demonstrate that the arts and the ICA would be a resource in this Boston community,’ she said, ‘But it is.’

“The food boxes also carry on the ICA’s mission to share art. Each one includes a creative project for families isolated at home. Medvedow said the museum is currently in talks with artists about commissioning new activities designed for both solace and stimulation. …

“Initially the effort’s funding was seeded with unsolicited anonymous donations. Now the ICA is funding the food distribution project and welcomes any additional support. …

“By the end of summer the ICA’s Watershed estimates it will provide more than 2,000 boxes of eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and fruit to East Boston families.” More.

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Photo: Peyton Manker via CNN
Illinois teen Peyton Manker made this gorgeous dress out of duct tape for a scholarship competition.

Oh, my goodness! Human ingenuity! Nothing against animals, but it’s hard to think of any animal — even the dolphin — dealing with misfortune by creating something that lifts the spirit like this. I think the product of this young lady’s resourcefulness belongs in a museum someday. After some future prom, that is.

Kiely Westhoff reported at CNN about the scholarship contest with the theme “Stuck at the Prom.”

“In January, 18-year-old Peyton Manker embarked on her journey to make a prom dress entirely out of duct tape for a contest to win a scholarship. After weeks of working on her submission, the Covid-19 outbreak not only canceled her prom but altered the course of her senior year.

“Manker was not deterred by the fact that she would not get to wear her dress to prom. Instead, she felt inspired to create a dress that ‘documents a part of history.’ Her coronavirus-themed dress features multiple images depicting life during the pandemic. …

‘It wasn’t just high schoolers, it wasn’t just America, it was the whole world being impacted by the pandemic so I wanted to show that,’ said Manker.

“She does so by showing an image of people running away from the giant coronavirus to signify the world trying to avoid catching the disease. Other designs pay tribute to frontline workers and people suffering from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. …

“She completed the look with a creative array of accessories including a ‘flatten the curve’ face mask. … She believes that her anklet displaying the words, ‘This too shall pass,’ perfectly encapsulates her message. ..

“Manker also wants to encourage a spirit of positivity with her work. She believes that ‘we can have some positive things come out of this whole experience and my dress is an example of that.’ …

“Manker says this is her debut as a duct tape artist. Her previous experience is from making small duct tape wallets and flowers when she was much younger. Four months and 41 rolls of duct tape later, she managed to make something far more elaborate. …

“Manker’s mother posted the dress to Facebook, where the post has been shared over 254,000 times. Manker says it is ‘surreal’ that her work was able to make an impression on people all over the world who commented on the post.

“She says that winning the contest, run by duct tape-maker Duck Brand, would be rewarding because ‘it will mean that people saw all the positivity I was trying to show them.’ Duck Brand will be awarding $20,000 in cash scholarships to the winners in July.” See more views of the Manker’s gown are here. Other Duck Brand prom dresses are here.

Photo: Peyton Manker
This fetching little purse ensures you won’t forget Covid-19.

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Photo: Getty Images
Between August 21 and 26, in Karlskrona, Sweden, the Carl International Film Festival will have 30 boat-in screenings.

You already know that drive-in movies are back in style. (Remember this March post?) Today I have a Forbes article describing how the idea of using vehicles for social distancing has expanded in Europe.

Sarah Turner writes, “While many of Europe’s arts festivals have been cancelled this year, including Edinburgh, Bayreuth and Glastonbury, others have turned to 1950s America for inspiration with drive-in performances.

Nowhere more so than Germany, which is, appropriately enough, still the heartland of Europe’s car industry which got on board the trend early with festivals in Leipzig and Dusseldorf, partnering art films with innovative venues.

“The Kunstfest Weimar festival, founded in 1990, encompasses  music, theatre and dance to fine arts and film. One of the three strands to this year’s festival is coronavirus and its impact on both society and individuals. To reflect this, six specifically created productions will be staged at a new venue, the Alte Feuerwache drive-in cinema. …

“In the U.K., various drive-in concepts are also taking shape. In early July the unabashedly feel-good Nightflix festival is part music concert, part film screening with cover bands and classic movies. There are two venues, Colchester in Essex and Newark in Nottinghamshire; options include Abba tribute bands and screenings of Grease, Moulin Rouge and Joker. Around 350 cars will be able to attend each performance, with the modern festival essentials of sourdough pizza and halloumi fries also being on hand.

“The Henley Festival, usually a bastion of black ties and crowd-pleasing performances, is putting on an Alternate Festival between July 9-12 with car-based comedy, theatre and karaoke. After Henley the Car Park Festival will be going on the road, venues include Dudley, Manchester, Northampton and Newbury while film and comedy-based The Drive-In Club will take place at London’s Alexandra Palace.

Live Nation will be putting on drive-in concerts with — among others — Dizzee Rascal and Kaiser Chiefs and the cult musical Six, based on the wives of Henry VIII. …

“In Cornwall, Wavelength magazine will have clifftop drive-in cinema experience at Watergate Bay from late July through to the end of August 2020 alongside a host of on-site socially-distant options including street food, live music, tombola popcorn stands and craft beer bars.

“Held at Trebelsue Farm, with space for over 200 cars and vans, The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema Series will start on Friday 24th, the Cornish-set surf film Blue Juice and continues into late August.

“But it’s Scandinavia that is taking the most innovative approach to the notion of the drive-in festival. Between August 21 and 26, in the Swedish town of Karlskrona, the Carl International Film Festival will have 30 boat-in screenings. Taking place in the Salto Fish Harbour with two LED screens, up to 100 boats will be allowed in, drawing attendees from around 1,600 nearby islands, with food delivered to boats from harbourside restaurants.” More at Forbes, here.

Speaking of social distancing by boat or car, I recently suggested to a friend who can’t go farther than her yard or her car that in winter we should park our cars somewhere six feet apart, open a window, keep the heat running — and continue our weekly visits.

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Photo: Tanecni Aktuality
Dance master Curtis Foley left Canada for a gig in the Czech Republic. Then Covid-19 struck.

Lockdown in the pandemic has kept a lot of people from going home, sometimes stranding them in surprising places. Today’s story is about camping out for four months in the Czech Republic’s ornate national theater.

Jennifer Stahl writes at Dance Magazine, “When Canadian ballet master Curtis Foley arrived in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in early March, he planned to spend five weeks with the National Moravian-Silesian Ballet, serving as a part-time ballet master. The former Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballet Grandiva dancer had spent the previous four years as a ballet master at the Polish National Ballet, and had recently gone mostly freelance.

“But five days after he landed in the Czech Republic, COVID-19 sent that country into a state of emergency, with one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Most of the foreign artists working with the company swiftly left before the borders closed. But Foley felt a sense of duty to stay. ‘I was supposed to be here to help these dancers for five weeks, and if I were to leave, coming back could be difficult since I don’t have Czech residency and I’m not an EU national,’ he says. So he remained, hunkering down alone inside an apartment on the third floor of the theater.

“With travel remaining complicated, his original five-week stay has ended up lasting for four months.

‘The joke I started with my friends is that I’m the phantom of the opera,’ says Foley. ‘There’s no one else here but me in this massive labyrinth.’

“Although a skeleton crew of administrative and janitorial staff have come in to work during the weekdays, Foley says that starting at 4 pm every Friday, he knows he’ll be on his own until Monday morning.

” ‘It was a novelty at first,’ he says. … ‘Now it just feels like home.’

“Being the only person in the building most of the time has raised logistical questions. ‘During the first few weeks, the company and I were having discussions like, Is it okay to turn off the heat to save money?’ (He said it was.)

“But there’s been more to do than wander the hallways. The dancers took just one week off after the lockdown, then Foley started teaching company class on Zoom. Soon, as the Czech Republic got the virus under control, five people at a time were allowed in the studio (including Foley and an accompanist). Throughout all of June, he’s been able to teach the entire company at once in person again. …

“It’s now been 16 weeks, and with the European Union opening its internal borders, Foley is finally returning to Warsaw, where his boyfriend lives. He admits that he’s a bit anxious to leave.

” ‘This has become my new normal,’ he says. ‘Being there for the dancers has given me the motivation to get through the pandemic, to get out of bed every day and think this isn’t weird.’

“He’s grateful for the intimate relationship he’s built with the dancers while going through this crisis. ‘It typically takes years to create this kind of relationship, but we got to do it really fast,’ he says. Soon enough, he’ll be back — though hopefully not haunting the theater at night all on his own again.” More here.

Did you ever stay overnight in an unlikely place? I did once. I was working for a newspaper chain and there was a blizzard that everyone knew was going to be bad. The other staff left early, but I had decided to bring my sleeping bag and stay over as I had to work in the morning and really dreaded the drive home and back again. It was a little weird, with machines making noises all night, but it was way better than driving.

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Photo: Gareth Henderson
Messages of hope fill a window at the Bernard General Store in Barnard, Vermont.

When you’re feeling down, it’s a sign of health to look for comfort, which actually can be found in many places. Some people find it in phone calls to distant friends. Others find it in reading, music, exercise, or nature; in donating to people worse off or in watching children playing and laughing.

Gareth Henderson writes for the Christian Science Monitor that in Small Town America, some people are finding comfort at the general store.

“As COVID-19 restrictions were tightening in mid-March,” Henderson writes, “Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva made a big decision: They pledged to keep the doors of the Barnard General Store open, no matter what.

“Now the Barnard store has a grocery home-delivery system supported by volunteers, and they also offer curbside pickup. But it’s been a long haul for the store, in this remote Vermont town of about 900 people, located a half-hour from the nearest grocery establishment.

‘Most days we are working 10 to 12 hours a day, but we are happy to do it for our community,’ Ms. Bradley says. …

“Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the South and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

“Eight years ago, the Barnard store closed for about a year but came roaring back after a community trust with hundreds of local members raised the funds to save the business. It reopened in 2013, with Ms. Bradley and Mr. Minerva as the new owners. The community simply would not let the store fail. …

“These Vermont stores have become essential food hubs. With most country store buildings closed during Vermont’s state of emergency – which was extended beyond May 15 – online ordering and curbside pickup has become the trend. Such is the case a 40-minute drive south at the South Woodstock Country Store, which has been running its curbside operation since early April. Around noon each Friday, co-owner Simi Johnston, donning her mask, puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup.

“For Ms. Johnston, the main focus is continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

“The entire operation is sanitized, and the store tries not to touch deliveries for 24 hours. The first week of curbside, the store saw 20 orders – which is nothing like being fully open.

“ ‘It’s a huge hit, for sure, but we’re definitely hoping there’ll be a lot of understanding from everyone around that,’ Ms. Johnston says. …

“ ‘The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,’ she says. ‘Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.’

“With Vermont’s unemployment rate soaring to more than 20% during the pandemic, many stores are also finding a way to give back, even while they themselves struggle. In Craftsbury, which sits an hour south of the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, businesses have joined forces to set up a pop-up food pantry. The Craftsbury General Store put out a call for donations, and they came in fast.

“ ‘There’s been a lot of generosity in that realm,’ says co-owner Kit Basom.

“At the store, the doors are closed to the public, but they’re doing business seven days a week, filling online and phone orders for curbside pickup. The store’s owners have added a third person to help with phones, and everyone is on deck to be a ‘personal shopper.’ …

“The Craftsbury store has also added a ‘virtual tour’ on its website, so customers can browse the shelves digitally. The staff regularly updates an online list of items people can order in bulk – think flour, rice, or pasta.

“ ‘We’re moving a lot more product from our grocery section than we ever did before,’ Ms. Basom says.

“For many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together. There is growing concern about the warmer months, from May to October, when these small village stores usually make the majority of their annual income. Though it’s been on their minds, Ms. Bradley from the Barnard store says she is confident they will find a way to make it.

“ ‘It’s sink or swim time and there is no way we will let ourselves sink,’ she says.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Germany

Art: Street artist FreeThinker via the Mercury News
Artists are reflecting our pandemic experience in whatever media they use. Some of the work ends up in the Covid Art Museum, some can be found on the street.

The Covid Art Museum (@covidartmuseum on Instagram) has provided some laughs for me lately. It’s one of the many new links I’ve added to my social media during the pandemic. I first learned about it at a site called OZY.

Dan Peleschuk reported, “With entire populations around the world locked inside, museums everywhere have closed their doors until the deadly coronavirus pandemic passes.

“Not this one. Which actually opened. …

“Three Barcelona-based advertising professionals came up with a bright idea: the Covid Art Museum (CAM), an Instagram account collecting the best COVID-19-related work out there.

“Launched in mid-March, just as Spain was careening into the health crisis, this volunteer effort showcases the creative fruits of mostly European artists who have something to say about how society’s changing before our eyes. …

“After all, ‘we are now in a period of very important reflection on everything,’ says CAM co-founder Irene Llorca, creative art director at marketing agency Honest Barcelona.

“Popular themes include creative pleas for consumers to stay home, as well as playful takes on the newly ubiquitous face masks. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, toilet paper features prominently too. Virtually every art form — photographs, illustrations, installations and much more — makes an appearance in the museum’s quickly growing archive. …

“London-based art director Thomas Ollivier, also known as Tom le French, has turned his attention to a series of photographic manipulations that comment, among other things, on what face masks might tell us about our future. Even after the crisis ends, he says, the objects might find their way into our normal routine. ‘Surely it will start to become like a handbag or an accessory, and obviously brands will step in and create their own version of it,’ he says. …

“For creators, it’s a free platform for their art. For everyone else, Llorca adds, ‘it’s a space that can give them strength and help them realize that they are not alone in this.

‘Maybe they’ll see that artwork by a Spanish person in Bilbao speaks directly about their current situation. It’s a way to connect people virtually.’

“Just like with every other aspect of life these days, it feels pointless to talk about future plans. But at the very least, Llorca says, a digital book might be in the works — plus a physical exhibition, for when it’s all over.” More.

In Angie Kordic’s Widewalls interview with the museum’s founders, Irene Llorca explains more: “From the artworks that we receive through our questionnaire, so far we have counted more than 50 different nationalities. We have also created the hashtag #CovidArtMuseum and many artists are using it. They send the artworks to us and we also look for them.

“The three of us are passionate about art and we follow many artists and art galleries; this has helped us find very interesting works.

“The main filter when choosing the pieces is that they are related to the current moment: the crisis of Covid19. That’s why we don’t close ourselves to any technique, we collect all kinds of art whether it’s illustrations, photographs, paintings, drawings, animations, video, etc. From all the works received or found, a selection is made to publish those that best reflect the current moment.” More.

If you are on Instagram, it’s definitely worth following @covidartmuseum.

Photo: Bored Panda

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Photo: CBC

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Image: Ozy

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