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Artists and Loft Tenants Protest New York City’s Department of Buildings

On Friday afternoon, politicians and loft tenants rallied near City Hall to demand that Mayor de Blasio overhaul the city’s Loft Board.

Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway
Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Artists and other tenants of New York City’s thousands of live-work lofts are growing increasingly frustrated with their treatment by the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), and on Friday afternoon dozens of them took their grievances to the agency’s headquarters around the corner from City Hall. Between chants of “Oversee the DOB” and “Knock knock, who’s there, angry tenants everywhere,” the protesters called on the DOB, its Loft Board, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to make good on their claims to want to protect tenants of live-work units around the city and overhaul the city’s Loft Law, first implemented in 1982.

“We will continue to do this until the Department of Buildings listens and starts changing these laws,” New York State Assembly Member Maritza Davila said at today’s rally. “These laws are too antiquated. You’re trying to push the people that have been the indigenous people from the community, and now you’re trying to push out loft tenants. Well guess what, we’re working together, it’s not gonna happen.”

New York State Assemblywoman Maritza Davila speaking at a loft tenant rally outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway
New York State Assemblywoman Maritza Davila speaking at a loft tenant rally outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway

The rally, organized by the group NYC Loft Tenants with Davila and the Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance, brought together loft tenants from 79 Lorimer Street, 58 Grand Street, and 475 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, 255 18th Street in South Park Slope, as well as tenants from 85 Bowery, who were kicked out of their homes in the middle of the night in January. Davila was joined by City Council Member Steve Levin and State Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol.

“I’ve just been working with the tenants at 79 Lorimer Street in my district, who have had all of their possessions ruined because pigeons have taken up occupancy after the Department of Buildings vacated the building three and a half years ago, and the owner just coincidentally knocked out the windows and let pigeons take up residence in their apartments,” Levin said at today’s rally. “We met with the Loft Board and the Department of Buildings over two years ago about this building; I talked to the tenants — they got their keys on Monday of this week. Two years after we met, three and a half years after they were kicked out. That kind of thing cannot be allowed to happen in our city without any consequences.”

Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway
Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway

Numerous artists participated in today’s rally, many of them brandishing umbrellas painted with slogans including “DOB: Department of Bullies” and “Mayor de Blasio: Honor Your Pledge.” The latter refers to promises made by the Mayor during a press conference held shortly before last year’s election at 475 Kent Avenue — many of whose remaining tenants were in attendance at today’s protests — to overhaul the Loft Law.

“We have been lobbying for years up in Albany and with the governor as well, not just the legislature, and the only thing that gets real action through is when you come down to the street and de Blasio reads about it, and then he’s like, ‘What’s going on down there?’, and then this gets a little bit of traction,” artist and loft tenant Zefrey Throwell told Hyperallergic. “Right before election day he made a great show, made a bunch of promises, and in five months none of them have come true. It is such a blatant empty promise. He’s the boss of the Loft Board, and he can tell them, ‘Look, keep the artists, keep live-work tenants here.’ It takes one phone call, a phone call he doesn’t want to make.”

Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway
Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway

Today’s rally at 280 Broadway followed a protest in January at one of the Loft Board’s monthly meetings, where loft tenants convened to express their frustration. Notably absent from that meeting was DOB Commissioner and Loft Board chairman Rick D. Chandler.

“The DOB Commissioner under [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg, Robert LiMandri, came to every Loft Board meeting, chaired the meetings, understood the issues — I was amazed,” Chuck DeLaney, the Tenants’ Representative on the Loft Board, told Hyperallergic. “But Commissioner Chandler, I’ve never laid eyes on the guy, he’s never come to a meeting. By name, he’s the chair of the Loft Board. He’s never come to a meeting.”

Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway
Loft tenants protesting outside the offices of the New York City Department of Buildings at 280 Broadway

Commissioner Chandler was only present at today’s rally in the form of cut-out images of his face brandished by protesters and in the frequent chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Commissioner Chandler has got to go!”

“The Department of Buildings is egging on the affordability crisis by aiding and abetting landlords in emptying out buildings,” Eve Sussman, an artist and tenant at 475 Kent Avenue, said during today’s rally. “This agency is helping landlords empty buildings, that’s what they’re doing. We see it every day in our communities. It’s rampant and we have to make it stop. We need oversight hearings, we need Rick Chandler to be replaced.”

The next meetings of the Loft Board are scheduled for May 10 and May 17, both at 2pm at 22 Reade Street.

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