City Council Holds Hearing on Hotel-to-Condo Conversion Moratorium [UPDATE: CITY COUNCIL APPROVES EXTENSION]

Council Member Ritchie Torres. Image credit: NYCC/William Alatriste

UPDATE: On May 10, 2017, the City Council voted 45-4 to approve the extension of the moratorium on hotel-to-condo conversions within the Borough of Manhattan. Council Members Daniel Garodnick, David Greenfield, Steven Matteo, and Paul Vallone all voted in the negative. The Committee on Housing and Buildings previously voted 11-0 on May 8, 2017. The bill will now go to the Mayor’s desk for his signature.

City Council Committee heard testimony in considering an extension on the Manhattan moratorium on hotel-to-condo conversions. On May 2, 2017, the Committee on Housing and Buildings held a hearing on a bill to continue for two years a limitation on conversions of hotels to condominiums. The Manhattan hotel industry alone generates about $11.8 billion in economic activity and generates more than 65,000 jobs throughout the City. The industry contributed $1.8 billion in tax revenue to the City in fiscal year 2015.

Introduction No. 1586, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, would extend the effect of Local Law 50 of 2015 for an additional two years, until 2019. The Local Law prohibits hotels in Manhattan with 150 or more units from converting more than 20 percent of the floor area to a different use. The Introduction, in addition to extending the prohibition, will require the creation of a supplementary industry report to analyze the cumulative impact of the hotel industry on the City’s economy with a specific focus on the impact of hotel conversions on the availability of quality jobs for city residents.

At the hearing, Council Member Ritchie Torres described New York City as being in a “time of turmoil.” Since 2008, the City has lost over 100,000 middle-class jobs, and those that remain are paying lower wages. Torres pinned blame for the affordable housing crisis not just on rising rents, but also “stagnant and declining incomes.” He described the tidal surges of hotel-to-condo conversions as a threat to the American dream. Torres framed the moratorium on conversions as temporary while the issue is studied in depth in search of a more permanent solution.

Only one person testified on the legislation. Michael Greely, a resident of Inwood, Manhattan who worked as a banquet clerk for sixteen years at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel until it closed on March 1. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel closed to be converted into condos. Mr. Greely testified to make sure no one else would be as dramatically uprooted as he was with the sudden loss of his job.

Council Member Eric Ulrich expressed his dismay for the decision to close the Waldorf-Astoria, remarking that he was not aware of a shortage of luxury condos in New York.

CC: Committee Hearing on Intro. No. 1586-2017 (May 2, 2017).

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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