City Announces Plan to Convert Vacant Offices to Housing

Mayor Adams announces proposal to convert vacant offices into housing. Image Credit: Violet Mendelsund/Mayoral Photography Office.

On August 17, 2023, Mayor Eric Adams and Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Dan Garodnick took significant steps toward building critical new housing across the City by devising a plan to convert vacant offices into housing and implementing procedures to ensure the plan’s success.

In addition to developing an office-to-residential conversion plan, the Adams administration launched the Office Conversion Accelerator, which will connect city government experts with office building owners to expedite complex office-to-housing conversion projects. Led by Get Stuff Built Executive Director Robert Holbrook, the accelerator will call upon representatives from City Hall, the Department of City Planning (DCP), the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Board of Standards and Appeals, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and others for expertise.

The Adams administration has also launched the “Midtown South Neighborhood Plan,” a community planning process that aims to update zoning rules and regulations to allow the conversion of unused office buildings into new residential buildings. The proposed actions to facilitate office conversions would extend regulations to enable an additional 136 million square feet of office space to become eligible for conversion, with individual property owners ultimately deciding whether to convert their buildings. Additional zoning changes will make buildings built before 1990 eligible to convert to housing—an update from the existing 1961 and 1977 cutoffs. They will also allow the conversion of offices and other non-residential buildings into housing anywhere in the City where zoning regulations permit housing and enable conversions to a wider variety of housing types, including supportive housing, shared housing, and dorms.

The Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan will also update outdated zoning regulations to allow for new housing in Manhattan between 23rd Street and 40th Street, from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, where new housing is currently prohibited. This zoning update will enable the development of a mixed-use neighborhood in the area, providing a space where residents can live, shop, work, and play in one community, while supporting local businesses and creating jobs.

These new initiatives advance Mayor Adams’ vision for a “City of Yes,” build on his “Get Stuff Built” plan, and also work toward his “moonshot” goal of creating 500,000 new homes citywide in the next decade. The initiatives also deliver on recommendations from the “New” New York panel’s “Making New York Work for Everyone” action plan, which identified Midtown South as an area where updated zoning and office-to-residential conversions are essential for revitalizing business districts and job hubs.

To fully enable office-to-residential conversions, actions will also need to be taken at the state level, which failed to happen in Albany during the 2023 legislative session. While the city continues to invest in affordable housing and works on making city-level changes to change zoning to allow conversions, the State legislature will also need to act in the next legislative session to fully make office-to-residential conversions a reality.

Mayor Adams stated, “…We are throwing open the door to more housing—with a proposal that will allow us to create as many as 20,000 new homes where the building owner wants to convert offices into housing but needs help cutting through the red tape. With these three initiatives—converting empty offices to homes, an Office Conversion Accelerator, and the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan—we continue to use every tool at our disposal to increase the supply of homes for New Yorkers.”

Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer stated, “It makes no sense to allow office buildings to sit empty while New Yorkers struggle to find housing. By enabling office conversions, New York will reinvigorate its business districts and deliver new homes near jobs and transit.”

HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión, Jr. stated, “When life hands you empty offices, you convert them to housing. Creating the housing New Yorkers need by converting underused office space is a no brainer. We need new housing in every neighborhood across the city, from Midtown to Midwood. The city is stepping up to do what it takes, and office conversions will strengthen our fight—advancing our continued efforts to break records and create housing everywhere.”

By: Dylan Shusterman (Dylan is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2025.)

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