I’ve been thinking lately about what a malleable building type the tenement building is. Over their ~150 year history, tenement buildings have accommodated a whole range of different tenants, lifestyles and internal renovations.
Individual units have been lived in by several immigrant families at one time; then by single working class families; then by single individuals who creatively redecorated the spaces, maximizing the tiny square footage. Ground floor spaces have transitioned from dry goods stores to artists’ studios to art galleries to trendy restaurants…
The owners of a tenement building at 47 East 3rd Street in the East Village (Alistair and Catherine Economakis) currently live in their building. But they want to expand beyond the separate apartments that they currently live in and, in the process, spruce it up a bit. They plan to renovate the interior to include guest bedrooms, a gym, a laundry room and a nanny suite, among other additions. This would necessitate breaking-up the small individual units in the building.
Of course, the only obstacle to these plans was the tenants currently living in the buildings’ rent controlled units. Well, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on June 3 that the Economakises could evict those tenants, provided that they themselves planned to live in the building, after the renovations were completed.
Can tenement buildings (and the low and middle income people who live in their rent stabilized units) survive this latest change?
The immediate issue is the insecure future faced by the tenants of this specific building. But, the larger issue is: will tenants of all rent-stabilized buildings be less secure as a result of the final outcome of this situation.
Could we see tenement buildings elsewhere in the East Village and elsewhere in New York converted from multi-apartment buildings into single family mansions? The New York State Court of Apppeals has done nothing to prevent that possibility.
For the current tenants’ perspective, take a look at their website.