‘City of freelancers’: Freelancers Hub brings support, space to Sunset Park courtesy of $1.5M city investment

opening of freelancers hub
Freelancers Union Executive Director, Rafael Espinal cut the inaugural ribbon at the Freelancers Hub at Industry City.
Photo courtesy Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment

Being an independent worker does not mean you have to do it alone. The largest Freelancers Hub in the U.S. was just inaugurated at Industry City — and the 4,143- square foot state-of-the-art space was partially funded by New York City, which invested $1.5 million in the project.

“NYC is the city of Freelancers,” said Freelancers Union executive director Rafael Espinal at the Sept. 28 opening. “From newly arrived immigrants starting small businesses, new college grads with a toolbox of skills in design and marketing to seasoned professionals leaving the 9-5 workforce to gain autonomy over their personal lives, NYC continues to be one step ahead of the curve to ensure it is the fairest and most equitable place for those working independently.”

The Freelancers Union, an organization representing more than 500,000 independent workers across the country that helps to facilitate access to health insurance, tax assistance and legal advice regarding work rights, led the initiative to establish the free co-working office and training and resource center.

desks at the freelancers hub
The freelancer’s hub will offer a free coworking space to millions of freelance workers in New York City, plus access to mentorships, workshops, and more. Photo by Duane Anthony

The brand-new hub features rooms and equipment to host workshops, private meeting rooms and on-site staff and advisors in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. Later this month, it will start hosting networking events, boot camps on topics from branding to mental health taught by freelance experts, and mentors to provide workers with tools and resources. As of 2019, about 1.3 million New Yorkers were freelancers full-or-part time, according to a study by the Freelancers Union and the city.

As we work to build back a more equitable economy in New York City, supporting freelance workers is critical,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer in a statement.

“Just mentioning that I am part of a union to my clients makes a huge difference because then they know I’m protected and they can’t mess with me so easily,” said 29-year-old graphic designer Seth Icke. “Working for myself, for the most part, is a great functioning system. I get to work with many bright entrepreneurs, helping them materialize their ideas and propel their businesses. I decide the cost of my work and reach agreements with my clients who value it. But the dynamic comes with the incertitude of every party respecting those agreements and me being able to do my craft or having to waste time chasing payments and losing money.”

Joining the union is free and doing so allows for booking a co-working desk with no cost for up to eight days.

rafael espinal at freelancers hub opening
Freelancers Union executive director Rafael Espinal, a former New York City councilmember, said New York is a “city of freelancers” at the ribbon-cutting.Photo courtesy Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment/Twitter

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act — legislation supported by the Union. If signed by Governor Hocul, companies could face up to $25,000 in penalties for failing to provide a contract for freelance work or pay a freelance worker within 30 days of completing a job. A localized version of the bill was signed into law in New York City in 2016.

“Independent workers, which comprised more than 60% of NYC’s media and entertainment workforce pre-COVID, are a vital component of New York’s creative economy,” said NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Anne del Castillo. “Independent workers, which comprised more than 60% of NYC’s media and entertainment workforce pre-COVID, are a vital component of New York’s creative economy.”

In 2019, the creative industries accounted for more than 500,000 local jobs and had an economic impact of $150 billion annually. 

The city chose to open the hub in Sunset Park for its proximity to more than 90 companies in media, production, and related fields, according to Espinal, because of the significant number of freelancers working in media. A previous location opened in Dumbo in 2018, but was shut down during the pandemic.