April 20, 1996

'Housing Group at Throat of ABC No Rio'
by Claud Solnick

The battle for ABC No Rio bubbled up recently, with a brief if technical victory for the artists at the club and a setback for the nonprofit trying to turn it into housing. What makes this eviction struggle different is in the people trying to push No Rio aren't just landlords: They're Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE). And they want to turn the struggling cultural center into housing.

"We had it (eviction) dismissed three times," said Steven Englander. "They keep coming back."

No Rio had the suit dismissed this time on a technicality, which means this is anything but a clearcut victory. On April 5, No Rio's lawyer, Jackie Bukowski, filed a petition to take on the City Council which okayed the move by AAFE. Since June of 1995, New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and AAFE have been trying to evict No Rio from 156 Rivington Street. The housing project would be called Harmony Houses.

"Three times, eviction proceedings have been dismissed or discontinued," according to No Rio. "No Rio anticipates another eviction petition will be served in early May."

To a lot of people, No Rio is a cultural asset. But tell that to the City Council. They found that No rio "arrests or impairs the sound growth and development of the municipality." That paved the way for HPD to push for an eviction of No Rio which has been at that site for more than 16 years.

"No Rio...is committed to presenting alternative and non-commercial art and performance, music, poetry readings and film and video screenings," a spokesperson said. "The space is available to the community for meetings and workshops."

It's also home to the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. But lately they've spent a lot of time in court fighting to survive. Before the City Council could approve evicting No Rio, they had to show that it was a "blight" to the community. In legalese, that means No Rio "constitutes a serious and growing menace, is injurious to public safety, health, morals and welfare, contributes increasingly to the spread of crime, juvenile delinquency and disease... and constitutes a negative influence on adjacent properties..." Any of the above? While the building has lost use of its heater, it has argued that the City, as landlord, ought to help maintenance.

"In landlord-tenant court, we get the case dismissed," Englander says, "But they can start again."

They've staved off eviction proceedings and add that there has to be a long "hard look" before deciding No Rio's a blight. And they add that they think No Rio's irreverance may be one reason for efforts to remove them.

"(It's) an attempt to shut down an arts collective for long-term opposition to City policies," they say. "Its true intention is to eliminate a forum for protest and dissent."

Whether No Rio goes or stays, so far they seem to be digging in for a continuing fight.

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