Proposed zoning updates that would make it easier to convert office buildings in commercial districts to housing and other uses could yield up to 20,000 new housing units in the next decade.
A new plan by New York City Mayor Eric Adams eases the way for developers to convert office buildings to housing and other uses, reports David Brand in Gothamist. “The plan, which draws on recommendations from a city task force convened in July, could pave the way for up to 20,000 new apartments over the next decade, Adams said.”
According to the task force, the vacancy rate for Manhattan office space was 20 percent in late 2022—double the rate in 2019—while the vacancy rate for apartments with rent below $1,500 per month is lower than 1 percent. “Adams’ office conversion proposal would target Midtown Manhattan, as well as other commercial districts, like Downtown Flushing and Bronx Hub. The plan would also allow for a range of housing types, including supportive housing for people who have experienced homelessness and would require changes to city and state laws around zoning requirements.”
Brand notes that prior proposals to convert New York City hotel rooms to housing stalled. As of last September, no hotel rooms had been converted, and hotel occupancy rebounded, causing hotel owners to lose interest in the program.
In an opinion piece in the New York Daily News, Department of City Planning Director Dan Garodnik explains the outdated zoning regulations that hold back building conversions. Notably, buildings built after 1961 (or 1977 in the Financial District) are ineligible for conversion under current rules. According to Garodnik, “That thinking is far too small for today’s challenges.” Garodnik adds, “Expanding the options available to these office buildings will help ensure our business districts’ vitality. And while housing is the top priority, we also need to think creatively about how offices can be turned into child care centers, schools, labs, and other uses we want to see.”
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