CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center won a hard-fought reprieve this month when a judge granted the embattled East Village group a four-month stay of eviction. That means that CHARAS, whose five-story building off Tompkins Square was auctioned to a developer for $3.15 million in 1998, has until December 12 to find a new home.
The ruling was a surprise, coming as it did from the same judge, Supreme Court Justice Saralee Evans, who in June set aside a jury verdict barring the new owner, Gregg Singer, from evicting CHARAS because he did not prove he intended to insure community use for the building, as the deed requires. Then Evans deferred to an appeals court, which found that CHARAS did not have a right to a jury trial in the first place.
But Evans was clearly moved by the testimony of CHARAS founder Chino Garcia and several of its artist tenants, who said that they would lose grants and have to cancel children's workshops and other programs if forced to move out immediately.
"It's a big, big relief," says Garcia, who helped rescue the then abandoned school 22 years ago. "We've been under tremendous pressure. It's almost impossible to find affordable spaces for nonprofits in lower Manhattan."
Yet even as they search for new digs, CHARAS and its supporters have yet to cede their hold on the site. By hanging on until after the election, they hope to get help from a less hostile administration. Democratic candidates Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer, and Peter Vallone have all spoken in favor of the center, which provides cheap rehearsal space for more than 100 performance groups, free English and computer classes, teen job training, artist studios, and meeting space for activists. "We're going to use the time to look at other legal avenues, because we feel like selling our building was an injustice," Garcia says. "We would also like to see if we could start serious negotiations with Singer."
But their legal prospects look slim; the higher courts have consistently ruled against CHARAS. And Singer has filed a motion to vacate Evans's stay on the eviction.