When you hear the word “live-in loft” do you time travel decades into the past to the land of boho starving artists who take up residence in abandoned warehouses and live lives destined to be the inspiration of a Broadway-bound rock version of La Bohème? Well, snap out of it! Wake up to the real story happening right here and right now.
A bill that would expand protections of the 1982 Loft Law — that was put on snooze by the Republican controlled state senate — is now up and about making its way to passing due to the recent shift to Democratic control. Looking on the surface, the legislation appears to simply further affordable housing protections. Further inspection uncovers complexities that could mean the Loft Law may be the stuff of a North Brooklyn gentrifier’s dream. This is particular to North Brooklyn industrial zones: Williamsburg and Greenpoint are not exempted from the Loft Law as the other 13 industrial zones in the city are to protect their industry jobs. The ghost of Vito Lopez lives on in this exception; it was part of a self-serving political maneuver he made. This legacy of a slippery-slope potential for industrial buildings to convert to residential ones is alive and well, and its cost is the loss of an estimated 20,000 jobs with healthy living wages.
On March 11, the Gotham Gazette published an Op-Ed, “The Loft Law Bill: Inequity on Stilts” It cites specifics on how the proposed Loft Law could harm North Brooklyn: (1) By allowing even more lofts within the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), it threatens nearly 20,000 industrial and manufacturing jobs that pay North Brooklyn’s working, immigrant families double that of retail or service-industry jobs. (2) Live-in lofts change the character of manufacturing areas to residential, which leads to an explosion in variance applications, which in turn can lead to zoning conversions for market-rate luxury housing. This pattern led to the rezoning of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront (2005), Rheingold (2013), and Pfizer (2018), all separate episodes that contributed to a 30% decrease in people of color within our communities. In the same way that unscrupulous landlords and developers prefer market-rate tenants to long-term rent-stabilized families of color, so too do they prefer higher paying loft tenants as a [stepping stone] to the luxury market.” *
Council Member Reynoso gives his full support to the aspects of the Loft Law that “legalize[s] live/work spaces in neighborhoods that are largely residential or commercial, providing them with safe, rent-regulated housing.” However he shared his misgivings on the Loft Law expansion as applied to District 34, “In my district, residential lofts are located within the most active industrial area in the city, a geography that contains nearly 20,000 well-paying working-class jobs. When residential and industrial uses are placed in such close proximity, clashes inevitably erupt and we have seen that industry almost always loses – businesses are displaced and their workers are left without stable employment to support the ever increasing cost of living in New York City. Furthermore, since 4 out of 5 workers in the industrial sector are people of color, the loss of these jobs means the loss of our community’s diversity and the displacement of our long-term residents, a phenomenon we have become all too familiar with in North Brooklyn in recent years.” He later said, “I am deeply disappointed that we continue to pit housing against jobs. This is a false dichotomy. Ultimately, no matter how affordable housing may be, if you don’t have a job, you’re not going to make the rent. We must protect economic opportunity, particularly for folks with low educational attainment and/or limited English proficiency – a demographic that that has long relied on the jobs provided by the industrial sector to move into the middle class.”
Senator Julia Salazar, in her first term as state senator of the district that includes Bushwick and Williamsburg, added an amendment that added the North Brooklyn Industrial Zone to the 13 other protected IBZs. She received immediate backlash from loft tenants in her district. Determined to find a solution, she has been talking with community representatives on both sides of the issue. On March 23rd she tweeted, “On Thursday, I spent a total of 7 hours meeting with both loft tenants and impacted community members mentioned here because they asked me to, because they still want to work out a compromise. I’d be happy to join this meeting too. They are eager to produce an amendment together.”
As she said in one of her first tweets on her amendment to the Loft Law, “It’s challenging, but doing the right thing often is!”
* The Gotham Gazette Op-Ed “The Loft Law Bill: Inequity on Stilts” was published on 03.11.2019 and was authored by Edwin Delgado, Anne Guiney, Gregory Louis, Alexandra Fennell, Leah Archibald, Jose Lopez & Rolando Guzman. Here is the link to the piece: www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8336-the-loft-law-bill-inequity-on-stilts