Pratt Center Research

Urban Manufacturing

Under the Hood: A look into New York City's Auto Repair Industry

Report  |  February 28, 2017

Under the Hood: A Look into New York City’s Auto Repair Industry, takes an in-depth look at the oft-ignored auto sector and offers critical statistics about its most vital asset: its workforce.  It reveals that auto repair jobs provide decent wages for a workforce that has limited educational attainment and is overwhelmingly immigrant and people of color. 

Auto repair is one of a number of sectors - like elevator repair and construction, and the storage of building materials, buses and heating oil - that are essential to the functionality of the city. They are often concentrated in areas that have been the target of development and zoning changes for other activities which can afford to pay more for space.  This presents a major challenge for the sector, and the City’s leadership must craft proactive strategies for how to balance land uses to ensure the operational integrity of the city.

The report maps the locations of auto repair shops and describes the unique historical and economic reasons why they are not evenly distributed throughout the city.  Auto repair shops are highly clustered for collective economic benefit, and are both dense and long, with corridors along major arterial roadways.

As a result,  auto repair businesses face significant challenges  from:

  • Competition from higher paying uses allowed in C8 and M zones, such as restaurants, self-storage, exacerbated by changes in uses nearby
  • Direct competition from residential uses in rezoned areas, which can generate substantially higher revenues for land owners and which prohibit new auto uses
  • Disruption of a cluster causes a “domino effect” impacting surrounding businesses
  • Few options for relocation, and even fewer that can accommodate a relocation of a group of businesses
  • Landlords who do not possess the proper C of O and therefore put the auto shop at risk for fines from multiple agencies

These characteristics suggest that planning for the future of the sector is both essential and will require a citywide lens. Despite the example of Willets Point, there has been no formal economic planning for the sector undertaken.  As Housing New York is poised to impact 40% of the fifteen Council Districts with the largest concentration of auto shops, it is essential that a comprehensive study be conducted to examine the sector’s needs and identify  resources to ensure that quality jobs are not lost and that the city has enough auto repair capacity to meet its need.