Vito Lopez to Brooklyn tenants: Rep. Velazquez says “you don’t matter”

Political boss Vito Lopez turns tenant meeting into a campaign event for challenger to incumbent member of Congress

Assemblymember Vito Lopez addresses Brooklyn tenants at a forum on his loft law expansion. Photo: Max Seddon

Assemblymember Vito Lopez told more than 200 tenants gathered at a meeting last night on his 2010 law protecting their right to live in former industrial spaces that he is their best ally — and suggested that Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez is the one they should throw out of office this year.

“[Councilmember Diana] Reyna and Velazquez wanted the area carved out of the law,” said Lopez, who also heads the Brooklyn Democratic Party, referring to the industrial zone bridging Williamsburg and Bushwick that lies within his district. “They really don’t like you. This was Velazquez’s way of saying you don’t matter.”

Velazquez faces a primary challenge this June from term-limited Councilmember Erik Dilan, a close ally of Lopez who sat at his side onstage at the event. Flanking Lopez on the other side was Williamsburg Councilmember Stephen Levin, who formerly served as Lopez’ chief of staff.

As participants filed into the Our Lady of Pompeii church auditorium, Lopez aides passed around copies of a 2010 letter from Velazquez who, along with Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Councilmembers Diana Reyna and Brad Lander, called on Gov. Paterson at the end of the 2010 legislative session to veto the bill Lopez had sponsored to extend the state’s loft law to hundreds of manufacturing-zoned buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.

“The legislation would give a large windfall to building owners” who had long violated city zoning laws, the letter warned, adding that the expansion of the law to allow residential conversions of manufacturing spaces in Brooklyn and Queens creates “conditions that will ultimately displace many thousands of manufacturing jobs and harm New York City’s economic growth and vitality.”

They emphasized the industrial space needed to stay that way “to retain manufacturing jobs for a local workforce.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote his own “disapproval recommended” message to the  governor urging a veto, also largely on the grounds that residential conversions of industrial space pose a serious threat to industry and jobs in the city.

Lopez chose to zero in on Velazquez. “She’s got a rough election this year. Maybe some of you will go out and vote,” Lopez urged the crowd. “There are 1,500 loft tenants in my district, and only 114 of them voted in the last four years. But if you ever mobilize a bloc of 1,500 people, a lot will go your way.”

Velazquez could not be reached for comment this morning.

The meeting took place just hours after a judge ruled that the Lopez law does not apply to 10 tenants living and working in an industrial space on Berry Street, several of whom attended the meeting and displayed a stencil-painted sheet: “10 LIVE-WORK HOMES LOST / LOFT LAW FAILURE / FIX. IT. NOW. The ruling affects at least two other buildings in the area.

Tenants put their artistic talents to work on dozens of colorful signs. One emblazoned “Fix The Loft Law” on a placard shaped like a loft, complete with water tower on top.

Several tenants spoke out against the so-called “6-8-6” system established by the law, which allows landlords to increase rent in three increments totaling 20 percent as they meet milestones in bringing buildings up to code.

By far the loudest cheer of the evening came after one tenant said, “We pay residential prices for a shithole we develop, and then the landlords get paid for it.”

Others complained of a provision that exempts lofts smaller than 550 square feet from the law and, critics say, neglects artists who work in digital media that requires relatively little space compared to painting or sculpture.

One other pressing concern was long delays in obtaining approvals for conversions from the Loft Board, the city panel that ultimately decides which buildings may turn residential under state law. Only 36 conversions have obtained Loft Board certification since the law’s expansion.

Frequent court challenges by landlords to Loft Board and Department of Buildings approvals have left some tenants confused about who’s in charge of their building’s fate — the city or the courts.

Still others spoke of landlords who made end runs around the law’s “improper use” exemption, designed to prevent tenants from living above businesses like photo processing shops or dry cleaners that use hazardous chemicals, to evict tenants and convert the building for luxury residential or retail use.

Lopez assured the audience that he currently working on a cleanup bill, not yet introduced, that aims to smooth out these contentious points in the law.

He made it clear that tenants would continue to need an ally in Albany to keep the loft law working in their favor.

“For the last five years, the housing market has been terrible,” Lopez said. “As soon as it changes, they’ll go after your building. They’ll buy up your building for $2 or $3 million and sell 40 residential units at $1 million each.”

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    • Manufacturing has been leaving NYC for decades, and that has more to do with property taxes than loft tenants.

      My building is a walk up that was desirable to businesses 100 years ago, when it was built. It sat empty for years because businesses don’t want to carry product up and down stairs all day (although a drummer will).

      Do you feel my landlord should be a charitable organization and be forced to lower his rents to try an attract a manufacturer to this undesirable space?

      This law is basically fast tracking zoning which hasn’t kept up with reality… and that’s likely due to the same bureaucracy that has driven manufacturing out.

      I guess you’d prefer empty buildings and crime-ridden neighborhoods than all of the successful neighborhoods that have been spearheaded by loft tenants?

      Also, “a couple dozen”? You’re completely lost.

  1. So Lopez, after over a decade of ignoring these crucial constituents crafts a shoddy bill to curry favor. Velazquez recommends vetoing the shoddy bill. Lopez admits the bill is shoddy. Yes, lets blame the rep in Congress over poor state legislation.
    I really hope people don’t fall for this ploy.

  2. Unbelievable… ‘“The legislation would give a large windfall to building owners” who had long violated city zoning laws’

    LOL! I guess the loft dwellers would have been happier if the building owners never allowed them to live there in the first place? Listen, you people got to live in your dream spaces for a long time. Now the people who own that space have other options. Newark is really cheap and has more live/work space then you know would know what to do with. Just don’t try to make little back room deals with scumbag politicians when Newark is the new Sillyburg in 20 years.

  3. Dear “loft tenant”,

    “Lost” you say. Getting cozy with Lopez is like making a deal with Satan. I have a solution, move.

    • I’ve got news for you, my landlord wants this. He gets to rent the unoccupied spaces at market rates.

      So you want manufacturing AND artists to move?

      Face it; New York City isn’t a manufacturing city anymore. The world has changed. It’s not Lopez’s or my landlord’s, or my fault. If my landlord could’ve rented to businesses (that have many less rights and are easier to displace than residential tenants) he would have.

  4. Loft tenants — if you care about the affordability and character of this area then you should oppose Lopez, expansion of conversions, and rezoning to residential with vigor. Look at what happened to the Northside after the 2005 rezoning removed protection for industry from that whole area around Driggs and Roebling south of McCarren Park — is this the future you want?

    And this is not even considering the impact on jobs. Blue collar manufacturing pays $45k salaries on average and is an invaluable source of jobs for people of color and immigrants. The industrial space is equally important to creative manufacturing space for the arts and supporting industries.

    Allowing this area to turn over to residential is not just bad for the local community, it’s bad economics for the whole city.