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Councilwoman Proposes Law to Preserve Affordable Housing for Artists

By Danielle Tcholakian | October 30, 2015 5:18pm | Updated on November 1, 2015 9:37pm
 Councilwoman Margaret Chin leading a hearing of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee in 2011.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin leading a hearing of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee in 2011.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

SOHO — City Councilwoman Margaret Chin is proposing legislation that would require landlords who own apartments in SoHo and NoHo long designated as affordable housing for artists to notify the city when the units become vacant, before offering them to new renters.

The city would then publicize the units so that artists can be made aware of their availability.

The units, known as Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists, were established in 1971 when the city legalized the residential use of studios and workshops in manufacturing and commercial buildings that artists had been living in illegally for years.

The city continues to make them available to New Yorkers certified by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) as professional, working artists with a demonstrated need for a loft to both live and work in.

Chin said her legislation was vital to preserving the unique artistic character of SoHo and NoHo, "which form the heart and soul of our city."

"By requiring landlords to notify the City so that it can post the availability of these precious housing units, we will establish an easy process for working artists looking for an affordable and available space to work and live,” Chin said in a statement.

Under the legislation, landlords would notify the DCLA a minimum of three days before they advertise or offer a lease to a new resident. Landlords who fail to do so would be fined $1,000.

The bill would also establish a public list of artists' lofts, created and maintained by the DCLA, and the agency would send notices to every certified artist whenever a unit is vacated.

Chin hopes that the legislation will encourage more artists to get certified to ensure there are people to fill the apartments and keep them zoned as affordable artists' housing. She said only 26 artists applied for certification in 2011.

The bill aims to establish a clear number of how many JLWQA units exist in the city — information that is currently not available from any agency, according to Chin's office, which is part of why it's so difficult to protect that housing.

SoHo and NoHo, both neighborhoods in Chin's district, are well-known for having at one time been a haven of JLWQA units, in part because the neighborhoods are largely zoned for manufacturing, not residential use, with artists' residences being an exception.

But in a 2014 document arguing against the city allowing a developer to convert existing JLWQA units at 102 Greene St. to market-rate residential apartments, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote that a "new pattern" had emerged in SoHo in recent years.

Where there were once applications to expand JLWQA in existing buildings, developers and landlords were now manuevering to convert the affordable units to market-rate residences.

Prior to the Department of City Planning permitting the conversion of JLWQA units at 70 Greene St. in 2011, Brewer said, "all special permits to create [market-rate residential units in SoHo] came as a result of new construction or substantial reconstruction."

Over the objections of the Borough President and Community Board 2, which pleaded for the city to mandate the developer include affordable units in the building to replace the lost artists' housing, the Dept. of City Planning, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, approved the application, saying there were too few units in the building to be managed by any of the city's existing affordable housing programs.

Queens Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, the chair of the City Council's Cultural Affairs Committee, and Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander joined Chin in pushing the legislation.

"For over a century artists have played a pivotal role in enriching the fabric of New York City," van Bramer said in a statement. “Increasing the amount of affordable live-work spaces for our local artists is essential to our city’s growth, economic development and vitality."