Mayor Reveals Task Force Recommendations to Convert Underused Office Space to Housing

Image Credit: Mayor’s Office.

On January 9, 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced a set of recommendations from the Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force for changes to state laws and city zoning requirements to make it easier for the conversion of underused office space to housing. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed how many companies operate, transitioning to work-from-home or hybrid structures that require less office space, while the city experiences an ongoing affordable housing crisis.

The task force’s recommendations include: 

– Expansion of flexible conversion standards to all high-density office districts. Conversion is currently allowed in zoning districts that allow residential use, but buildings must meet bulk regulations. Older buildings often don’t meet these requirements, but may still be converted if the building meets flexible conversion standards. Currently, the flexible standards are limited to certain parts of the city, so expanding to all high-density office districts will make more buildings eligible for conversion. 

– Expand flexible regulations to buildings constructed before late 1990. Current flexible regulations are available for certain buildings constructed through 1961. 

– Create more flexibility to enable full conversions of spaces to housing where current limitations incentivize partial conversions or ruin the feasibility of a conversion.

– Permit conversions to a broader range of housing types, including supportive housing.

– Explore tax incentive programs to support affordable and mixed-income housing production. 

– Creating a property tax abatement program to incentivize retrofitting office space to child care facilities. 

Currently, 200 million square feet of office space citywide would be eligible for conversion under existing regulations. The changes, if implemented, could result in the conversion of an additional 136 million square feet of underused office space into housing, or up to 20,000 homes. To read the full report, click here.

The Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force was created following Local Law 43 of 2022, which was sponsored by Council Member Justin Brannan. The task force consisted of City Planning Director and City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick; Kim Darge, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Cecilia Kushner, Chief Strategy Officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Wendy Wan, Director of Architecture at the Department of Buildings; James Colgate, Partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Basha Gerhards, Senior Vice President of Planning at the Real Estate Board of New York; Denis Johnston, Senior Director of Research at CBRE; Gary Rodney, Head of Affordable Housing at Tishman Speyer, Wendi Shafran, Principal at FXCollaborative; Cea Weaver, Campaign Coordinator at Housing Justice for All; and Michael Zenreich, Principal at Michael Zenreich Architects. 

The recommendations come at a time where the city and state are continuing to examine opportunities to build more housing, and remove bureaucratic or outdated obstacles that prevent or slow down construction, or restrict housing and economic development

Mayor Adams stated, “With this study, we have a roadmap to deliver on a vision for a more vibrant, resilient, prosperous, and affordable city. 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. I want to thank the members of the task force for helping to chart the course, and I look forward to working with them and our partners in city and state government to deliver these much-needed reforms.”

Council Member Justin Brannan stated, “When I first introduced the office conversion bill years ago, I had a simple question: Could we actually convert vacant office space into residential housing for New Yorkers? From our city’s uniquely high volume of office space to pandemic conditions that made people miss rent payments and made homelessness more perilous than ever, we thought there were a number of unique factors that made the answer a likely yes. Indeed, 74 percent of New Yorkers have said they would support the conversion of current office space into housing in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. Now that the task force has completed a report that gives us a clear roadmap forward, I can’t wait to dig into it with my colleagues and chip away at longstanding citywide problems by putting vacant space to good use.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)




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