real world impact of Soho artist-in-residence rules and Certificate of Occupancy enforcement, as the dialogue continues

their words, not mine
The provocative comments to the provocative Manhattan Loft Guy post about a provocative New York Times article continue, with the latest reader contribution a week ago. I don’t have any idea how many readers click through to the comments, but there is no value in subtlety here:

read the damn comment string … all of it!

This post will try to summarize a very rich thread, as an inducement for people to go back and read the damn comment string. That thread is an embarrassment of riches!

Obviously, any summary leaves stuff out, and my summary of someone’s else’s writing will not be the same way that person would summarize their own thoughts. So, yes, read the damn comment string.

Among other things, you will see not just some real world implications of problems that may ensue in Soho over the artist-in-residence rules, but actual real world examples of problems. I won’t offer any Manhattan Loft Guy analysis in this post, but will rely significantly on the comments of a long-time Soho activist and a current Soho coop board president, with the expectation (hope?) of coming back to this for a more systematic discussion in the not-too-distant.

This Manhattan Loft Guy series started within hours of that front page article from the Old Grey Lady on November 12, did the NY Times just write the obituary for the Soho real estate market? That remains the MAIN post, the one that carries the amazing comments thread; the one that all future comments should be made on, so that we keep just one thread going. I followed with my November 30 post that (after taking a deep breath) shows how often we have been here before, with some degree of public panic that the city had changed the approach to enforcement, how are Soho artist-in-residence articles like the Richter Scale in California?

Damion is a coop president in an A.I.R. building in Soho:

  • (citing a well-known Soho attorney) a year ago there were a half-dozen buildings that had been refused amended C of O’s by the DOB because they could not provide the requested Artist Certificates for every unit in their building
  • (citing a different attorney in Soho) DOB was making a habit of requiring artist certificates for all units in buildings that he was representing and in some instances his threats to sue the DOB was sufficient to unblock the situation but in other instances the DOB refused to budge
  • (about his own problem getting a recent mortgage) bank was "very concerned" about lending to a shareholder (artist or non-artist) in a building that is not 100% artist occupied;  he finally "was forced” to give additional security and pay a “much higher” interest rate (“I dare say many traditional mainstream banks would have walked away but I suppose I was fortunate because my lender was an ‘unregulated lender’ and not governed by the same compliance rules as the banks whose names you would recognize.”)

Sean Sweeney is the head of the Soho Alliance:

  • my take is that he thinks this is, in part, a generational problem: “But the newbie bankers are more likely to want expensive accoutrement that the oldtimers might not be able to afford.  That has caused problems in several buildings.” [and] “The pioneers moved in and put up with the noise and dirt of the manufacturers. Many of us feel the newer residents should try to adopt the same laissez-faire attitude.”
  • one Broome St building that let in a non-artist had a problem: “a lawsuit against the coop for allowing a sculptor (who lived above her space for 25 years) to disturb her quiet enjoyment with his noisey banging.
  • ….  She moved in and sues, in an attempt to transform SoHo from the interesting neighborhood it is in which she chose to live.”
  • he mentions renters, a Soho population I completely overlooked: “truly feared that if Certification were removed, then their landlords would have added incentive to try to force them out, to be replaced by someone without Certification, but who could afford the higher rent” and mentions the specific case of an artist family whose landlord wanted the building back for “immediate family” (a permitted way to end Rent Stabilization in a building) but who were permitted to stay (after litigation) because no member of the landlord’s family had a certification

reader Luca wants us all to get along, and poses interesting questions:

  • to the Old Grey Lady: “whether there’s any real evidence behind the NYT article beyond the Cultural Affairs 50% turndown of certificate requests last year. Frankly everything else in that article seemed a bit guesswork (as much as I love the NYT, it almost felt like irresponsible journalism to have so much speculation, so little fact base).”
  • to Damion: “Can you provide any more specificity – not because I’m asking you to defend your position, but rather to help us all understand what’s really going on”
  • to Sean: “Could you respond directly to the heart of Damion’s argument: that enforcement of the AIR would directly depress real estate values and really hurt the artists in the neighborhood by depressing their most significant assets?”

Luca got a response from Sean:

(one excerpt) “Funny, ain’t it, that the only [individuals] who seems to care about the artists’ and pioneers’ property values and their well-being are not the artists and pioneers themselves, but those involved in the real estate business?
There is no groundswell from the pioneers to remove this requirement, is there? It is coming from the bankers, the real estate industry, the mortgage brokers,  the real estate lawyers, and the newbies who moved in indiscriminately and now want to change the rules in the middle of the game. … If this really becomes a widespead major problem, it can always be addressed.  But, as of now, it appears only to be anecdotal or isolated. Again, newspapers need to write stories that people will read.”

she also got one from Damion, part of which is excerpted up top, part of which is in response to Sean:

“Sean, you make a valuable point that the existence of the A.I.R. laws also have an impact beyond property owners and also protect some renters and IMD tenants etc. I do appreciate the difficult situation of the Seidman family you brought up and I certainly don’t disregard the other examples you referred to. However, I think there are non-mainstream examples on both sides of the debate. I’m not sure to what extent these minority cases should impact the future of the masses though.” Damion then goes on to cite a specific instance of abuse of the IMD tenancy, “as an example to illustrate that there are extreme cases on both sides of the coin”

reader Davide posed a host of interesting questions (in this case, “a host” is a really large number) and offers his own “maybe I’m cynical” view, closing with this gem:

“No one forced the austere philosopher to sell to the crass materialist.  Yet many did.  Now the materialist has a vote as to what goes on in the building.  That’s an obvious consequence of allowing the materialist into the building.  Why should current zoning have anything to do with protecting folks from their own bad decisions?

It was the "SoHo Letter" that marked the beginning of the end…   This has been going on for a very long time.

Maciunas had already left SoHo by 1976.  That was about 35 years ago.”

to conclude for today
Humble thanks to all the commenters. This issue is not going away (soon); this thread should not go awa
y (soon); I will be offering more substantive Manhattan Loft Guy contributions (soon??).

Feel free to comment on the main thread: November 12, did the NY Times just write the obituary for the Soho real estate market?.

© Sandy Mattingly 2010


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