The delicate balance between the need for housing and the need to preserve manufacturing jobs and districts has sparked heated debates recently as discussions around outdated zoning in SoHo and NoHo, and loft conversion policies have taken shape. Residential and others uses have historically made incursions into industrial and manufacturing districts. New York City’s ongoing housing emergency is one of the primary causes. As a result, this has led to a significant number of manufacturing building conversions into residential or mixed residential/commercial uses – or lofts.
This isn’t new; how to treat these lofts has been the subject of tension for decades. In the early 1980s, New York State passed the “loft law” which provided a pathway for legalizing lofts in former manufacturing buildings. As a result, hundreds of loft buildings in SoHo and NoHo were converted and hundreds of units more have been legally converted over the past decade.
There are currently two separate “loft law” bills that would extend the number of eligible buildings. The two bills under consideration are:
- Assembly Bill A5841A, the amended loft law cleanup bill, would extend the law allowing for conversions within the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) but excludes units within M-3 districts, preserving the core and about 90% of the IBZ (the IBZ runs along the west side of Newton Creek in East Williamsburg). The bill would also expand the list of compatible manufacturing uses, making exemption only for those listed in group eighteen or M-3 districts as per the NYC zoning resolution.
- Senate Bill S3655A, the current version of the senate bill would achieve similar goals. However it is yet to be amended to reflect the provisions that would make the exemptions within M-3 districts and its corresponding use groups.
What will these bills look like in practice and in which neighborhoods? Loft conversions have generally been concentrated in just a few areas which were originally used for manufacturing. While there’s no way to determine specifically which buildings are most likely to make use of the new loft law, we mapped out two types of buildings in order to show the spatial concentrations of its effects.
- The pink sites are buildings we believe could be eligible as loft buildings based on five building classes filtered from PLUTO.1 Currently, people may or may not be living at these sites, which would make them fully eligible for conversion.
- The green sites are buildings we believe are already converted loft buildings, or in the process of being converted.
- Light green sites are tax lots that have at least one building containing Interim Multiple Dwellings (IMD) based on a Loft Board listing from 2016, meaning the conversion process of these buildings is overseen by the loft board.
- Dark green sites are ones which are the same building classes as the pink buildings, but have rent stabilized units based on John Krauss’s dataset, meaning they almost certainly contain official residential tenants.
Our observations/conclusions are based on our data analysis, but a physical survey would be a more accurate method on a building-by-building basis. However, one can see clear concentrations of both existing and potential lofts.
We found that SoHo and NoHo in Manhattan have the largest loft concentration by far, and most sites are located within the mostly outdated manufacturing district. The Garment Center, which is a more active manufacturing hub, hosts another substantial portion of potential conversion sites. Finally, most potential sites in North Brooklyn are just outside the IBZ. While a handful of sites listed as IMD are within the IBZ boundaries, these would likely be grandfathered regardless of what happens with the bills.
These actions are central to the larger issue of how to treat transition areas, traditionally industrial districts where non-industrial uses such as retail and business services have made significant incursions.
These policy and regulatory efforts will continue to unfold over the upcoming weeks, and perhaps conclude as early as next week. It is our hope that this analysis will help clarify existing gaps in information and become a potential tool for reaching consensus among the wide diversity of stakeholders.
“Knowing where things are, and why, is essential to rational decision making” ~ Jack Dangermond