Last Thursday night, dozens of advocates and supporters rallied at San Damiano Mission Church in Williamsburg to strengthen the Loft Law, which was first passed in 1982 to legalize live-work spaces in manufacturing buildings.
City and state lawmakers pledged to pass legislation to include more tenants under the law’s protections. State Senator Brian Kavanagh, chair of the State Senate’s Committee on Housing, said he understands the urgency of acting now.
“We understand there are people facing eviction right now,” he said. “We are going to try to get a bill together that we can pass promptly, that will address the most immediate concerns of this movement.”
Though the Loft Law has helped convert thousands of units into safe and affordable homes for artists and residents, it was amended in 2010 with specific language that excluded many tenants.
The changes in the law, pushed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, excluded lofts that lacked street-facing windows and basement units.
Bloomberg also created an application deadline, which passed in June 2017, and set expiration dates on the protections.
Loft tenants are now pushing the state to pass the Loft Law Clean-Up Bill, a measure that would not only remove the restrictions and the application deadline, but also extend the eligibility date.
Advocates also said they want to make the rent milestones permanent.
“We’re hoping that finally we can get some permanent changes to the law,” said Paul Wilson, a 25-year loft tenant who raised his children in Williamsburg.
Wilson said with the new Democratic majority in Albany, he thinks the legislation has a “very good chance.”
“I hope for the best,” he said.
Legislators proclaimed it a “new day” in the state’s capital. Newly elected State Senator Julia Salazar, who represents many loft tenants in north Brooklyn, said they will work on a long-term solution.
“Loft tenants, and all tenants, deserve to be able to live without fear of eviction or displacement,” she said.
Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, a longtime supporter of loft tenants, said she’s optimistic that they will come to a conclusion this year.
She noted that New York City Loft Tenants, the group advocating for changes to the Loft Law, has been going up to Albany for the last few years and made their presence known.
“That’s left an impression on everyone,” she said.
Davila said previous attempts to strengthen the law were stopped at the State Senate level. Most of the Republicans that ran that chamber were not from urban communities, she noted, and didn’t see the bill as a priority.
“They don’t see it and they can’t feel it,” Davila said. “But in my district, I see it everyday. I see them moving out.”
To drum up even more support, loft tenants are heading up to Albany by bus on January 29. They plan to talk to state lawmakers, keep the legislation top of mind and lobby for the Loft Law Clean-Up Bill to pass.
Loft tenants have another ally in City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who spoke passionately at the rally about the importance of housing justice. Though he has no formal role with improving the law, he emphasized that the “moment is now” to act.
Even veterans of the loft tenants movement expressed optimism at the event. Chuck DeLaney, a member of the New York City Loft Board, said he had never seen a meeting with “this much political juice” in years.
He issued a call to action to all of the loft tenants and their supporters to make their voices heard.
“We need you to come to Albany,” DeLaney said.