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2024 Village Award Winner: Sixth Street Community Center

Village Preservation is very proud to honor the Sixth Street Community Center as a 2024 Village Awardee! Join us in recognizing Sixth Street and five other remarkable awardees at Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Wednesday, June 12th at the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union. The awards ceremony will be emceed by legendary musician, writer, producer, and music historian Lenny Kaye, with registration free and open to all. Click here to register.

Why are the East Village and Lower East Side among our most sought after neighborhoods in which to live today? In the 1970s and 1980s, the dynamic was very different. These neighborhoods were wracked by abandonment and arson, and lacked support for its residents. Thanks to organizations like the Sixth Street Community Center, and activists like its executive director, Howard Brandstein, the beauty, character, and persistent community strength of these neighborhoods have been nurtured and preserved.

The Sixth Street Community Center, located in a former synagogue at 638 East 6th Street.

Founded in 1978 by a group of dedicated neighborhood residents, the Sixth Street Community Center remains a critical hub for mutual aid and environmental advocacy. If you were to walk through its doors on a given day, you might find a busy group of chefs preparing hot meals for families in need, or a group of teenagers learning about farming and climate justice. Brandstein and his team are especially focused on combating environmental racism, which rears its ugly head in the form of unsafe and unsustainable housing for communities of color, or limited access to fresh, healthy foods.

Their community-supported agriculture program, one of the very first in New York City, has given low-income community members access to fresh produce through their partnership with Hepworth Farms in the Hudson Valley. And they haven’t stopped there — much of the Community Center’s past and present educational programs include free classes on cooking and horticulture. These programs give residents the knowledge and tools to grow their own food in local community gardens and prepare it in their own kitchens.

The Sixth Street Community Center’s current programming. Image courtesy of the Sixth Street Community Center.

Since 1992, Howard Brandstein has served as the Community Center’s executive director. A homesteader since 1978, he helped reclaim 17 abandoned buildings, including his own current residence, transforming them into safe, legal residences where his neighbors could thrive. His work was instrumental in organizing the first community land trust in New York City in the 1980s.

Brandstein working on a homesteading project in 1986. Photo by Brian Patrick O’Donoghue.

The Community Center has made its home in a former synagogue at 638 East 6th Street. In the 1980s the site was abandoned and deteriorating, but local residents appreciated its unique architecture, as well as its potential as a community space when such spaces were scarce. The building was beautifully preserved and revitalized by homesteaders and members of the local block association, including Brandstein. In 1984, the block association purchased 638 East 6th Street, and it became the permanent home of the Sixth Street Community Center. Today the Community Center, in addition to its own programs, provides space to local residents and organizations at affordable rates. This has allowed them to collaborate with many organizations that share their mission.

Today, Brandstein and his team at Sixth Street Community Center are working to develop a new Community Land Trust (CLT), in partnership with This Land is Ours Community Land Trust and the Cooper Square Committee. The CLT will consist of up to 65 low-income housing units built on two under-utilized NYCHA parking lots at 640-648 East 6th Street. The proposed housing would be community-governed, with NYCHA residents serving on the board of the new Community Land Trust. Families who are currently on the waiting list for NYCHA housing would be given priority consideration. Community Board 3 unanimously approved the CLT as of February 2024.

Homesteaders and community residents demanding construction of affordable housing in the 1980s. Photo by Marlis Momber.

The Sixth Street Community Center has accomplished so much over the past several decades. They will continue to accomplish so much more, and the modes of sustainability and community governance that they have established will serve as an example to the rest of the city. You can learn more and support the Sixth Street Community Center here.

Want to join us in celebrating Sixth Street Community Center and our other inspiring awardees. Register now for the free community celebration at our Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Wednesday, June 12th at 6pm at Cooper Union’s Great Hall with awards presentation emcee Lenny Kaye? REGISTER HERE.

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