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Foes: New loft law will speed gentrification in Williamsburg

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Gov. Paterson signed legislation on Monday to require illegally converted loft buildings to get up to code — a move that could make such residences safer, but at the same time could result in higher rents that will push out Williamsburg’s artists and the industries they live near.

The bill, known as the Loft Law, will extend rental protections to tenants living in the illegal apartments in former factories and warehouses in manufacturing zones in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Maspeth.

As such, the bill’s champions heralded it as victory for tenants.

“Loft tenants finally have the peace of mind and protections that they deserve,” said Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), who worked on the bill for 10 years. “Loft tenants have greatly enriched our community, so to pass legislation that provides these tenants both rent regulation and the ability to continue to work freely in their residences is a significant victory in all respects.”

But such protection comes at a price, opponents say. Manufacturers and their supporters fear that they will be further displaced by a new wave of conversions and subsequent gentrification when landlords pass along the cost of their building renovations in the form of higher rents.

“We lost,” said Leah Archibald, executive director of the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation, a group that works to preserve manufacturing jobs. “Over time, this will have a very deleterious effect on our ability to retain working-class jobs in our community.”

Mayor Bloomberg agrees. As the passed bill was making its way to Paterson’s desk, the mayor sent a last-minute plea to the governor urging a veto on the grounds that the bill would “send a clear and discouraging message” to industrial tenants looking to settle in the city by prioritizing residential ones.

“Residential uses, even illegal and unsafe ones, pay far higher rents than, and place enormous economic and political pressure on, industrial and manufacturing uses,” said Bloomberg. “Ultimately, the encroachment of residential uses in these areas will force businesses to relocate and, in many cases, leave the city altogether, along with the good-paying jobs and economic diversity that they support.”

After a shouting match — caught on camera! — between Lopez and a Bloomberg Administration lobbyist, a compromise was reached that carved out 13 of the city’s industrial business zones from the law. But the three zones in Lopez’s district will be covered by the law.

That concession to Lopez infuriated his biggest rival, Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick).

“We’re talking about 15,000 workers, prevailing wages, union jobs,” said Reyna. “We’re talking about shaping my district … to his [Lopez’s] will. He controls the seat, he controls the land, and he controls the resources. That’ s a direct exploitation of power.”

Beyond the politics, some artists were concerned because the bill allows landlords to hike rents by thousands after making major improvements to their buildings.

Laura Braslow, who organized Bushwick Open Studios with 300 artist studios two weekends ago, wanted lawmakers to establish a cap for the maximum amount that rents can increase over a unit’s original lease price and keep units under rent stabilization regardless of how much the rent increases. If four tenants living in a unit earn an average income of $45,000 per year, they would not be eligible for these protections.

“The issue is that you’re giving landlords a benefit to get them legal,” said Braslow. “Rents are going to increase when construction costs are incorporated, which is a long-term benefit to the landlord. If the increase is capped, a larger number of people will be able to afford those leases.”

The law could even pit artists against industry in North Brooklyn. Already, the owners of Wonton Foods and Greenfield Clothiers are reporting an increase in the number of noise complaints from tenants in nearby converted buildings over their early morning factory shifts.

“Someone moved into a building next to my factory and I have a vacuum pump running which we turn it on when we start work at 7 am,” said Vice President Tod Greenfield. “They were illegal residents, now they could become legal, and I may have to limit my operations to start at a later hour if there are legal residents next door.”

Archibald agreed that a change is coming — and not a good one.

“The real artists can say goodbye,” she said. “They will have to go out and colonize another neighborhood. They’re going to lose cheap studio space with the relentless onslaught of gentrification over time.”

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Reader Feedback

Jason from Williamsburg says:
How can Diana Reyna save jobs that haven't been around in ten, twenty years? Many of these loft buildings sat empty for a long time before residents moved in. The US has been hemorrhaging industrial jobs for decades. Been to Detroit or Pittsburgh lately?

I can't believe I voted for Reyna and her nonsense point of view. She's letting infighting with a political rival cloud her judgment. She's never really cared about the white people in her district either.
June 23, 2010, 1:45 pm
Angela from Bushwick says:
The lofts across the street from the wonton factory are not illegal.
June 23, 2010, 1:46 pm
FU says:
"She's never really cared about the white people in her district either."

What?

You are a typical hipster douche.
June 23, 2010, 2:18 pm
Steve from Bushwick says:
This law is great news for tenants living in loft buildings. It truly is historic legislation.

Loft tenants have been living with almost no rights and prone to abuse by landlords for years. This gives them some hope for protection.

As for commercial and industrial jobs, the legislation only applies to tenants who can show they lived in their lofts during 2008-2009. That means not only commercial warehouses can't be converted going forward, but that tenants will no longer be in legal limbo. The legislation also protects most of the City's Industrial Business Zones.

What is annoying, however, is to read the posturing of some on this issue. The idea that lofts currently being used as residences would ever revert to commercial use is not only naive, but disingenuous.
June 23, 2010, 2:34 pm
Steve from Bushwick says:
Also, the above statement regarding the income of people living in the apartment is misleading. All rent stabilized apartments in NYC can be deregulated if the income of the household is over $175,000.00 for two or more consecutive years. If any provision to limit this form of deregulation would have been included, the bill probably wouldn't have passed.
June 23, 2010, 3:37 pm
Jason from Williamsburg says:
Only a "hipster douche" would attack me ad hominem instead of refuting my outrageous (but perhaps provable) statement. Oh wait, what did I just do....
June 23, 2010, 6:03 pm
FU says:
"Jason from Williamsburg says:
Only a "hipster douche" would attack me ad hominem instead of refuting my outrageous (but perhaps provable) statement. Oh wait, what did I just do...."

Again, typical hipster do*che nonsense. Listen, go into your closet, that way you could be the smartest guy in the room. Go take a bath, shave, and stop wearing flip flops like you are a girl. This isn't Soho or Tribeca.
June 23, 2010, 7:04 pm
anonymous from ex-patriot Greenpointer says:
NEWS FLASH: artists were priced out of Williamsburg beginning at least 10 years ago... so they moved to Bushwick and Greenpoint...now they are priced out of those locations, too.
June 23, 2010, 9:05 pm
M from Gowanus says:
Just a note in defense of my hometown, Jason:
Pittsburgh hemorrhaged industrial jobs (i.e. steel mills, coal mines) nearly half a century ago. The local economy has since bounced back brilliantly with an influx of smaller industries, universities, and new techie jobs (google has made PGH its new home). The city has held up great in the recession and is topping "most livable city" lists all over the place.

Pittsburgh is a good example of how a city can evolve with a drastically changing economy. New York is obviously in flux. The city has been pushing out industrial jobs for years, its time to adapt.
June 24, 2010, 1:40 pm
Anarcissie from LIC says:
The fuel for gentrification isn't artists -- it's bobos, non-artist bujis who want to buy an aura of bohemianism. Most of them seem to be from the suburbs and to have little actual interest in any art but posturing. The artists are simply the cutting edge of the real estate money. (I don't really understand why, if the bobos like bohemianism so much, they don't stay in Tarrytown or wherever and create their own, but they don't.)

However, that money may be going away now. Sadly, not in time to avoid the ruin of my neighborhood.
July 21, 2010, 10:19 pm
David Cutrone from Williamsburg,bklyn says:
Most of the lofts in this area were commercial properties, mostly manufacturing garments, and other material goods. The people who bought these properties converted them into residential abodes to accommodate the sudden flow of Hipsters , and artists in the neighborhood. Being as though it is now a residential property, according to the law, 40% of these residential properties are supposed to go to Low-Income Housing. The owners of these properties are NOT abiding to this Law, and are becoming rich by doing so. In my opinion, this Law should be in affect to accommodate the not so rich residents of Williamsburg. We are people Too.
Sept. 24, 2010, 1:38 am
joseph from ues says:
those wanna be "artists" makes me puke, they are a bunch of clowns living like gypsies one on top of the other, you have to see 5,6,7 people living in the same room, all in a trance of stupidity and trying to find themselves, they don't have money to eat but they sit down with their $1000 macs at some cafe, because if you don't have a mac you are not an artist, remember poser rule number 1 !
They should send all those clowns to some projects or shelters instead of being nest of bedbugs and ——ing up the good neighborhoods.
Jan. 10, 2011, 5:57 pm

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