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Soho Loftpocalypse! Artist-in-Residence Rule Matters Again!

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For years brokers, sellers, buyers, banks and city officials have pretty much ignored Soho's arcane artist-in-residence zoning law, which decades ago legalized the residential conversion of industrial lofts in the neighborhood so long as each owner-occupied apartment contained a certified artist. However, you may have noticed that the only "artists" who are able to afford a Soho loft these days are, like, Kelly Ripa and Bon Jovi. Soho's luxurification went unchecked as prices surged and agencies like the Department of Buildings decided to concentrate its efforts on more pressing matters than affordable lofts for artists. Usually, buyers just sign a document saying they understand the rules and can be asked to provide proof of artist certification, and then they forget about it forever. But now, the Times' Christine Haughney reports, people are starting to care about the rule, and for some, that's very bad news.

Tightened lending standards have made banks wary of making loans on buildings where such risky restrictions exist, and suddenly the city gives a crap, too. The Department of Cultural Affairs is actually rejecting some "artist" applicants, and the DOB has in some cases declined to renew temporary certificates of occupancy, which have been routinely handed out to buildings where not every unit contains a certified artist (and thus cannot be granted a permanent C of O). Mercer Street's New Museum Building, where Bon Jovi bought a $24 million penthouse and no sale in the past five years has been under $3 million, is one of those affected by the sudden crackdown. Attorneys are advising clients not to buy in the building, and the DOB hasn't renewed the temporary C of O since March 2008 (the agency's official line is that it hasn't stepped up artist-in-residence enforcement, and that there are other issues in the New Museum Building).

There's some back-and-forth over whether the rule is outdated and should be done away with, but it stands for now, and here's a glimpse into the process:

It has never been entirely clear who qualifies as an artist; the applications and even the names of the two judges who decide are not available to the public. Some SoHo residents have questioned how Mr. Bon Jovi and the hotelier André Balazs, among others, could obtain certification, since neither would seem to require a SoHo space for their work, one of the major criteria for certification, along with educational credentials and a body of work that has been displayed and written about in the previous five years. The city said it could not divulge the judges’ rationale, and representatives of both men declined to comment. “The law defines artists broadly and includes a variety of disciplines,” said Danai Pointer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Well that just cleared things right up, didn't it? Haughney also reports that current residents have been asked to seek certification by some buildings, but no one has been forced out for lack of artistic credentials. How long before the first millionaire eviction?
· Suddenly, SoHo Heeds Law Limiting Lofts to Artists [NYT]