NYC’s Goal is to Convert Office Space into Housing

NEW YORK—A plan to address the needs to create more affordable housing in a post-pandemic New York would covert vacant office buildings into homes, thereby tackling both the city’s housing crisis and lagging retail growth. A key to the proposal is more flexible zoning laws.

Mayor Eric Adams announced a list of specific recommendations for converting underused offices into 20,000 homes for 40,000 New Yorkers over the next decade. The recommendations, which were put forward earlier this year by the 12-member Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force and led by the city’s Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Dan Garodnick, would change state laws and city zoning requirements extend the most flexible conversion regulations to an additional 136 million square feet of office space. The recommendations include:

  • Expanding the universe of office buildings with the most flexible regulations for conversion to residential use from buildings constructed through 1961 to those constructed through 1990–easing the potential conversion process for an additional 120 million square feet of office space;
  • Expanding flexible conversion regulations to all high-intensity office districts, including Downtown Flushing and the Bronx Hub–easing the potential conversion process for an additional 16 million square feet of office space;
  • Finding opportunities to allow housing, whether through conversions or new construction, in a centrally located, high-density part of Midtown that currently prohibits residential development;
  • Allowing office buildings to convert into various much-needed types of housing, including supportive housing;
  • Providing flexibility for offices to convert all existing space into housing, eliminating limitations that incentivize only partial conversions or make conversion projects infeasible;
  • Exploring and pursuing a tax incentive program to support the production of affordable and mixed-income housing through office conversions–adding to the city’s affordable housing stock without deterring other private investment in conversions and housing creation;
  • Creating a property tax abatement program to incentivize retrofitting office space for child-care centers, building on Mayor Adams’ “Accessible, Equitable, High-Quality, Affordable: A Blueprint for Child Care & Early Childhood Education in New York City.”

“With this study, we have a roadmap to deliver on a vision for a more vibrant, resilient, prosperous, and affordable city,” Mayor Adams said. “The need for housing is desperate, and the opportunity offered by underused office space is clear–we know what we need to do.”

“These concrete reforms would clear red tape and create the incentives to create the housing we need for New Yorkers at all income levels,” he added.

Converting the city’s underused office space into housing has been the subject of growing discussion; in 2021, State Sen. Michael Gianaris introduced legislation that would allow New York to buy financially distressed commercial buildings and convert them into housing for low-income and homeless New Yorkers.

A handful of newsworthy recent office-to-residential conversions in the Hudson Valley include: the $400-million mixed-use redevelopment of the former Renaissance Westchester hotel into the mixed-use Renaissance Harrison development that will eventually feature luxury residential housing. In White Plains, the former AT&T office building is being redeveloped into a mixed-use project that will feature approximately 468 rental apartment units.

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