Municipal Arts Society eyes libraries for housing

By Zachary Kussin | March 21, 2012 02:00PM

[Updated at 6:32 p.m. with additional comment from the Municipal Arts Society] City developers may want to book it to the nearest library. The Municipal Arts Society is initiating conversations about potentially turning underused city library space into housing, according to MAS President Vin Cipolla.Changes in technology will create more unused library space in the future, Cipolla said at a MAS reception last night. The urban planning advocacy organization has begun conversations with the directors of New York City’s three library systems about finding new uses for interior and exterior space, including potentially converting it to public housing.

“What will 21st Century libraries look like when they go digital?” Cipolla told The Real Deal this morning. “There’s going to be development opportunity, unused space opportunity.”

Other possibilities for this space include after-school programs or dance studios, he said last night. Meanwhile, late today, MAS released a statement to The Real Deal emphasizing its position: “We are not working on a plan to turn underused city library space into housing: we are looking for new ways to support libraries to be libraries, and provide local communities with access to information, resources, cultural experience and opportunities for enrichment.”

Already, the city has underutilized library space consisting of old custodian apartments, according to Angela Montefinise, a spokesperson for the NYPL. She noted, however, that redeveloping those spaces would require extensive capital investment, and denied that the library has ever even discussed the possibility of housing with MAS.

She said “That is not on the table.” (note: correction appended)

Montefinise said the library is currently looking to maximize use of spaces like these by launching new pilot programs and partnering with community-based organizations.

Eric Bederman, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, told The Real Deal his department is always open to proposals about the expansion and preservation of the city’s affordable housing stock, though the requirements for affordable housing differ from standards for public buildings like libraries.

Mary Rowe, MAS vice president of strategy and partnerships, said today more research needs to be done before any firm plans can be made.

Libraries “play different roles in different neighborhoods,” she said. “We want to explore the pivotal role these libraries play.”