In May, after three years of lobbying in Albany, a newly revised Loft Law Bill was finally passed by the New York legislature. The bill, often referred to as the Loft Law “Clean-Up” Bill, was officially signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, a day before the time period for the governor to decide whether to veto or sign the bill was set to expire. But the highly contested Loft Law Bill remains the center of debate among community stakeholders.
The debate is mainly between loft tenants whose unprotected housing status is threatened by eviction without the bill, and other Brooklyn residents who believe that the bill will open the door to more illegal loft building conversions in the future. Those unsatisfied with the bill that was passed were also worried about what they saw as an increased effort to push out manufacturing jobs in North Brooklyn’s Industrial Business Zone (IBZ).
Tensions flared at the town hall meeting earlier this week. During the loft law town hall, elected officials, including the bill’s co-sponsors Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, gathered with community members and advocates at Small World Day Care Center on 211 Ainslie Street.
Other elected officials present were Assembly Member Joe Lentol, Senator Brian Kavanagh, and Assembly Member Maritza Davila, who was represented by her Chief of Staff Joseph Yanis. Council Member Antonio Reynoso also spoke briefly, though he was not part of the panel of elected officials.
While the objective of the town hall was to offer residents an opportunity to pose questions related to the bill’s passing, the event also served to pressure the governor, who at the time had not yet signed it into law more than three weeks after the bill had passed.
“For folks who have lived in lofts, going back to the very earliest, you’re not in the kind of housing that people always understand,” Assembly Member Glick said as she opened the town hall. “Lofts are unique, they are generally artists and artisans, and because New York’s creative class is crucial to our viability as a cultural center, this was an important measure.”
She acknowledged the dissenting voices that were concerned about the negative impact that the loft law measure might bring, stating that legislators had “struck a balance” to ensure that both sides could co-exist. Before the town hall session began, attendees joined in on a moment of silence for loft tenants who were evicted out of their loft homes during the bill’s completion.
But not all residents agreed with the bill’s categorization as a victory.
“This is a moment of lamentation, not celebration,” community organizer and long-time Bushwick resident Edwin Delgada said during the town hall’s opening statements.
He continued: “This event organized by elected officials whom we all have supported before shows that the working communities remain disenfranchised … that we still do not have true representation as North Brooklyn elected officials have moved from neglect to profound disrespect in hosting this sham tonight.”
As the evening progressed, the community heard from differing sides of the Loft Law Bill discussion, many through emotional testimonials. Some residents were explicitly disappointed in the way that they believe parts of the community, mostly those who are not loft tenants, have been overlooked in the drafting of the new loft law.
One resident, who identified himself as Bruno, pointed out that the compromises proposed by community members regarding increased gentrification that the law could bring were not included in the final bill.
While the new bill expands the application window for loft residents who have lived in their building for at least 12 consecutive months between 2015 and 2016 to apply for legal protections, it does not explicitly prohibit further loft building conversions. This has left many residents fearing that the messy issue of loft building conversions will continue to threaten job security for the neighborhood’s manufacturers and workers.
But others argued that many of the converted loft buildings had been vacant units before tenants moved in.
“[Landlords] put tenants in there,” one resident said. “Nobody is making manufacturing move. Nobody’s telling them they can’t have their spaces. But yet tenants are the ones being told they have to move, you have to be evicted, you have to leave.”
Eventually, a shouting match erupted.
“There were drug addicts in here,” one resident, who had defended the increased protection of work-live loft tenants, shouted, “our houses were on fire, there were cars in the street on fire, man!”
“Welcome to Bushwick! Thank you! Welcome to my house!” Brooklyn Community Board 4 Chair and lifelong resident Robert Camach shouted back in response.
No matter the shortcomings that the current Loft Law Bill has, it now gives expanded legal protections toward loft residents in North Brooklyn’s IBZ and beyond to avoid eviction. Neither Senator Salazar or Assembly Member Glick’s office returned requests for comment.
Cover image courtesy of @NYCLT.
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