Sure We Can, a nonprofit recycling center in East Williamsburg, is a lifeline for hundreds of can collectors across New York, who last year redeemed 11 million cans and bottles at the facility.
But unable to afford a pending rent hike and facing eviction, Sure We Can is calling on the city to provide $2 million to help buy its longtime space at 219 McKibbin Street.
Sure We Can has been trying to purchase the property for years, the group said. In 2016, it even began an effort to collect 60 million cans, which at 5 cents a can, would have yielded $3 million toward the purchase. But that attempt was unsuccessful and last year, the group applied for a $2.3 million grant from the Economic Development Corporation to cover most of the acquisition cost of the location, which it has occupied for a decade. That was denied because Sure We Can had not had a contract with the city of at least $50,0000 in the past three years, which was required.
Sure We Can says it’s not giving up.
“We want to let the city know that it’s in their interest to support the canners and Sure We Can,” said Ryan Castalia, its executive director. “We can help them meet the city’s sustainability goals, we can help provide green jobs, we can help support these low-income workers who have been really deeply marginalized for a long time.”
Sure We Can applied for city funding again this year and has requested the Office of Management Budget exempt it from the contract requirement. The city did not respond to requests for comment.
The nonprofit now pays $6,000 on a month-to-month lease, but the landlord intends to raise the rent to $9,000, Castalia said. The organization faced a similar issue in April 2020, when the owner first stated its intention to raise the rent or end the lease. Evictions moratoriums have kept Sure We Can at its location, and last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s ban on evictions of pandemic-affected businesses through Aug. 31.
The McKibbin property is owned by the Perez family, who also run L Train Vintage thrift stores. Ruby Perez, a property manager for the McKibbin Street location, said the family has charged Sure We Can below market-rate rent but can no longer afford to do so. Its costs have been increasing and demand has also picked up for commercial space in the area, she said.
Perez added that the landlord has been “patient and supportive” over the years while Sure We Can tried to raise funds to buy the site. “But both efforts haven’t been enough,” she said.