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Mayor Adams, DCP Director Garodnick Unveil Proposal to Convert Vacant Offices to Housing Through City Action, Outline Next Step in "City of Yes" Plan

August 17, 2023

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Mayor Adams’ “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” Proposal Will Include Changes Needed to Facilitate Office Conversions That Albany Failed to Pass

City Creating an Office Conversion Accelerator to Expedite Conversion Projects Immediately, Advancing Effort to Create New Homes and Good Jobs in Midtown Manhattan

Follows Adams Administration’s Record-Breaking Year for Creating Affordable Housing and Moving New Yorkers from Shelter into Permanent Homes, While Inaction in Albany Threatens to Halt Progress

NEW YORK – Following a record-breaking year for affordable housing production across the five boroughs, despite a severe housing shortage, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Dan Garodnick today took three major steps towards building much-needed new housing across the city, including by laying out a plan to convert vacant offices into housing as part of Mayor Adams’ “City of Yes” plan. The Adams administration is also launching an Office Conversion Accelerator to expedite complex office-to-housing conversion projects — speeding up the process of creating new housing while putting millions of square feet of empty offices to better use for New Yorkers. Finally, the Adams administration today kicked off the “Midtown South Neighborhood Plan,” a community planning process that will update zoning rules that currently allow only manufacturing and office space to foster a vibrant, 24/7 live-work community with new homes and good job opportunities.

While Albany failed to take critical action in the 2023 legislative session that would have facilitated office conversions with affordable housing, the city can act through the land use review process to change zoning citywide and expand the flexibility needed for these projects. With the proposed changes — which Mayor Adams first outlined in partnership with the City Council in January 2023 and highlighted again in March and May — office-to-residential conversions could produce 20,000 new homes for 40,000 New Yorkers in the next decade. This proposal will be part of Mayor Adams’ forthcoming “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” citywide zoning text amendment that will unlock the potential for more new housing in every corner of the city. While Mayor Adams has committed a record $24 billion for affordable housing, and even though the city can act to change zoning and permit conversions, state action would still be needed for office-to-residential conversions to produce a substantial amount of new affordable homes. If the state again fails to act in the upcoming legislative session, the city’s progress in tackling the affordable housing crisis could stall.

“I’ve said it before: New York City is the ‘City of Yes’ — and today, we are saying yes to a flourishing economy, yes to thriving business districts, and yes to creating more homes for New Yorkers,” said Mayor Adams. “Today, as part of our ‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity’ plan, 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.”

“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,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “Taken together, these aggressive actions deliver on Mayor Adams’ promise to make New York a ‘City of Yes.’”

“We are ready to deliver smart zoning changes that will throw a lifeline to underused office buildings and create much-needed housing in the process,” said DCP Director Dan Garodnick. “‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity,’ the Midtown South Mixed-Use plan, and the Office Conversion Accelerator will play an important part in delivering a more affordable, prosperous city.”

In addition to advancing Mayor Adams’ vision for a “City of Yes,” these new initiatives build on his “Get Stuff Built” plan and “moonshot” goal to meet the need for 500,000 new homes across the five boroughs over the next decade. They also deliver on recommendations from the “New” New York panel’s “Making New York Work for Everyone” action plan, which highlighted Midtown South as an area ripe for updated zoning and office-to-residential conversions as a key step for reinvigorating business districts and job hubs.

Converting Empty Offices to Homes

Under the proposed actions to facilitate office conversions, the most flexible regulations would be extended to an additional 136 million square feet of office space — roughly the amount of office space in the entire city of Philadelphia — though individual property owners will ultimately decide whether to convert their buildings. The zoning changes would make buildings built before 1990 eligible to convert to housing — an update from the existing 1961 and 1977 cutoffs in various areas — and allow offices and other non-residential buildings to convert to housing anywhere in the city where housing is permitted under zoning. They would also enable conversions to a wider variety of housing types, including supportive housing, shared housing, and dorms.

Mayor Adams’ “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” — with this proposal to facilitate office conversions — will begin public engagement this fall and be formally referred in early 2024.

To further use every tool in the city’s toolbox to enable conversions of empty offices and create much-needed new housing, Mayor Adams launched a new Office Conversions Accelerator, comprised of experts from across city government, to work with office building owners to advance conversion opportunities. Led by Get Stuff Built Executive Director Robert Holbrook, the accelerator will convene representatives from City Hall, the DCP, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Board of Standards and Appeals, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and others to marshal the city’s resources to assist owners with complex conversion projects — from analyzing the feasibility of individual projects to helping secure necessary permits.

Beginning today, property owners and applicants can reach out online to seek the accelerator’s help.

Creating Affordable Homes and Good Jobs in Midtown 

While advancing citywide action to create housing, the Adams administration continues to pursue neighborhood-level efforts to support jobs, economic growth, and vibrant communities in business districts like Midtown Manhattan. Launching today, the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan will update outdated zoning to foster a 24/7, live-work, mixed-use neighborhood in the area between 23rd Street and 40th Street from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue.

The plan, which will cover four areas designated for manufacturing a half-century ago, could, for the first time, enable new housing — including permanently affordable housing — to be built in the heart of Manhattan with access to economic opportunities and mass transit where new housing is not permitted under current zoning.

The plan will explore opportunities to enable conversion of non-residential buildings to housing, support economic growth and create family-sustaining jobs, and continue to drive the city’s economic recovery.
Additionally, the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan will explore both zoning and non-zoning tools to support local businesses and create good jobs in an area that already supports 135,000 jobs and more than 7,000 businesses.

Public engagement is expected to begin this fall.

“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,” said HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión, Jr. “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.”

“Mayor Adams’ ‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity’ is a necessary next step to address New York City’s housing crisis while also putting to use the abundance of vacant office spaces around our city,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Andrew Kimball. “As key recommendations from the ‘New’ New York action plan, these proposals will continue to deliver on Mayor Adams’ vision to build vibrant, 24/7 commercial districts throughout New York City that are great places to live, work, play, and do business.”

“By loosening outdated zoning regulations that no longer serve their intended purposes, Mayor Adams and our partners at City Planning are providing builders with the flexibility necessary to convert unused office spaces into the housing our fellow New Yorkers desperately need,” said DOB Commissioner Jimmy Oddo. “My team is excited to roll up their sleeves and get to work with our agency partners and office building owners on the newly created Office Conversions Team, which will further help to break down silos in city government and get these planned office conversions projects in motion.”

“The repurposing of historic buildings to better serve modern needs while retaining historic features shows the important role that preservation can play in helping New York City evolve to meet the demands of our changing world,” said LPC Chair Sarah Carroll. “Mayor Adams’ ‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity’ is a powerful statement of this administration’s commitment to provide much-needed housing and to ensure that our designated landmark office buildings, which include some of the most architecturally significant structures across the city, will have the opportunity to adapt and thrive while continuing to serve New York City and its residents in the years ahead.”

“Under Mayor Adams’ leadership, a relentless focus on addressing the city’s most vexing problems is producing solutions for a more resilient New York, and bringing the city’s underutilized office buildings back to life with desperately needed homes for New Yorkers is the latest example,” said Chief Policy and Delivery Officer Sherif Soliman. “Office-to-residential conversion is a proven success when the zoning barriers intended to shape new construction are removed. These zoning changes, coupled with the creation of the Office Conversion Accelerator, will provide consistent rules citywide and facilitate the conversion process to enhance the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.”

“These zoning changes will unlock opportunities for building owners and, more importantly, for everyday New Yorkers in need of housing,” said “Get Stuff Built” Executive Director Rob Holbrook. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to lead the Office Conversion Accelerator, which will help building owners map a path to residential conversions and then facilitate the multiagency coordination needed to move through the regulatory processes.”

“The initiatives that Mayor Adams announced today are key to advancing the ‘New’ New York vision: not simply reviving Midtown but reimaging it,” said “New” New York Executive Director B.J. Jones. “The proposed zoning changes to facilitate office conversions, the Office Conversion Accelerator, and the Midtown South neighborhood plan will provide flexibility and remove bureaucratic barriers to create more vibrant, mixed-use districts.”

“With half of New York’s rental households rent burdened and a 1 percent vacancy rate for affordable units, more housing is essential for our city’s future. I am proud to partner with Mayor Adams to solve our housing crisis,” said New York State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar. “Converting office space into housing is simply common sense: our city needs 560,000 new units of housing to meet demand, and we have 76 million square feet of vacant office space. The mayor has taken this from idea to action, opening up over 1,300 football fields’ worth of space for desperately needed housing. Under the mayor’s plan, we will transform Midtown Manhattan, one of the world’s most iconic business districts, into a bustling community for people to live and work.”

“The cost-of-living crisis in New York City is driven by the longstanding lack of new housing construction,” said New York State Assemblymember Tony Simone. “We must take action on every level of government to address this crisis, and converting offices that have been sitting empty since the pandemic is one way we can do so immediately. Having a roof over your head is a basic human right. I appreciate this push by Mayor Adams to create housing here in Midtown and ease the burden so many face in finding an affordable place to live, and I look forward to working for new policies in Albany to aid this effort.”

“Addressing New York’s housing crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that will result in the equitable production of housing,” said New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “Our city needs every tool at its disposal to create more affordable, sustainable, and long-term housing for all people who call our city home. The Council will carry out its Charter mandate and engage in various efforts to expand housing and economic opportunities, including the start of the Midtown South Neighborhood Plan. I look forward to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to help realize our shared goals of advancing solutions to the housing crisis that impacts all New Yorkers.”

“We are in the throes of a housing crisis, but through smart policy and bold action, we can unlock many opportunities to build more housing, including here in Manhattan,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “In February, my office released a plan that identified 171 sites and nine neighborhoods that could provide much-needed housing. I’m thrilled to see that one of them — Midtown South — is moving forward. I’m happy to see that the city is taking a comprehensive approach to building more housing and will also help property owners capitalize on other opportunities, such as office-to-residential conversions. Together, these efforts will help us overcome this housing crisis.”

“New York City is in the midst of a dire housing crisis, and we must do everything in our power to address it,” said New York City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers. “Converting empty office buildings to apartments is an obvious course of action that must be pursued aggressively. The proposals announced today will expedite conversions and help create thousands of sorely needed housing units.”

“It’s absurd that in a city with an acute housing shortage, we’ve had office buildings sitting virtually empty for years,” said New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher. “The fact that New York City has seen virtually no commercial office buildings convert to residential is a result of flawed public policy. Additionally, the idea of 100 percent commercial districts is an antiquated notion. We should strive for live-work neighborhoods that are alive with activity both day and night and provide both housing, commercial, and industrial uses. I want to thank Mayor Adams and Chair Garodnick for their leadership on this critical issue.”

“New York City is facing a housing shortage, driving up rents in Manhattan to historic highs and pushing people out of the city. The response to the persistent housing crisis must be multifaceted and include all levels of government,” said New York City Councilmember Carlina Rivera. “Permitting and expediting office-to-housing conversion projects will be impactful for increasing housing availability and enhancing the economic vitality of the city. I commend Commissioner Garodnick and the Adams administration for their work to examine zoning regulations that will permit office-to-residential conversions and look forward to continued partnership with my colleagues to increase the supply and availability of safe, affordable housing through the city.”

“New York City needs short- and long-term solutions to address our housing crisis, and office-to-residential conversion is a critical element that can begin to make a difference soon,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, chair, Manhattan Community Board 4. “We know that mixed-use neighborhoods are best for the city, and conversion will improve the symbiotic economy of our communities. Manhattan Community Board 4 commends the Adams administration for leading on this issue and looks forward to being a part of a robust community engagement process to craft a holistic vision for new housing, jobs, and more in the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan.”

“Community Board 5 recognizes the positive impact that converting office buildings to residential spaces can have on our community’s growth and development,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, chair, Land Use, Housing, and Zoning Committee, Manhattan Community Board 5. “This policy has the potential to significantly alleviate the housing shortage in our community. By creatively reimagining existing structures, we can contribute to addressing the pressing need for housing solutions, fostering a more inclusive and sustainable urban landscape.”

“The regulations that currently govern the conversion of nonresidential buildings in New York City into housing are decades out of date and do not account for the many buildings and building types that have become obsolete in recent years,” said Sarah Watson, deputy director, Citizens Housing and Planning Council. “The ‘City of Yes’ proposals will help revitalize business districts and meet housing needs in high-opportunity neighborhoods. They also up the ante for the state to deliver a tax incentive that enables privately financed mixed-income conversions.”

“The actions announced today by Mayor Adams are smart, detailed, and aggressive — exactly the kind of pro-housing reforms that the city and state desperately need,” said Andrew Fine, policy director, Open New York. “Open New York is excited to work with the local councilmembers on the proposed neighborhood rezonings in Midtown, which will bring permanently affordable housing to the Manhattan core. We will engage all stakeholders — including our state electeds — on creating the right policies to encourage the conversion of many outdated office buildings into transit-oriented, mixed-income housing. We also look forward to supporting the continued rollout of ‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity,’ which is the first chance in a generation to encourage widespread and equitable housing growth across the city.”

“During a time in which our state needs to build more than 800,000 housing units, it is critical that we think outside the box. NYSAFAH applauds the Adams administration for proposing as-of-right office-to-residential conversions across the city and is enthusiastic to learn they are setting up an interagency Office Conversion Accelerator,” said Jolie Milstein, president and CEO, New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH). “This will enable the creation of thousands of new units of housing, including supportive housing — which will help ease the crisis facing our shelter system. We look forward to seeing this proposal enter public review next year.”

“New York Housing Conference commends Mayor Eric Adams for initiating important regulatory and zoning changes to address New York City’s housing shortage. These changes could be even more impactful if accompanied by legislative action in Albany,” said Rachel Fee, executive director, New York Housing Conference. “We look forward to working with the city and state to find more solutions to our housing shortage.”

“We’re in the midst of a housing crisis that is threatening to push New Yorkers over the brink and into homelessness, and the only way we’re going to dig out of this crisis is by growing the number of homes available in our state,” said Valerie White, senior executive director, Local Initiatives Support Corporation New York. “If we are to ever close the racial wealth gap, it’s critical that we look at every idea to expand housing, end this crisis, and build the bridge to opportunity that a safe, stable home provides.”
“A comprehensive strategy to increase housing supply and expand access to opportunity in New York City will involve creative thinking, new tools, and bold action,” said Baaba Halm, vice president and market leader, Enterprise Community Partners. “Encouraging office to residential conversions is one such strategy to meet these goals.”

“The common-sense changes that Mayor Adams is proposing are an important step forward in our efforts to expand New York’s housing stock and strengthen neighborhoods at a time when we need to be maximizing all of our options to bring housing online,” said Rafael E. Cestero, CEO, The Community Preservation Corporation. “Broadening the parameters for underutilized office space eligible for conversion into housing is a critical step in addressing our city’s affordability and homelessness crises. We look forward to working together with the administration to help move this plan forward so that we can create a more affordable and equitable New York City.”

“Facing an urgent crisis and an unprecedented demand for supportive housing, New York City must utilize every tool in its arsenal to quickly create the housing and services New Yorkers deserve,” said Pascale Leone, executive director, Supportive Housing Network of New York. “We commend the Adams administration for opening the door to the potential transformation of existing office space into desperately needed supportive housing.”

“I applaud zoning changes that offer the potential to increase the city’s housing supply and expand affordable housing opportunities for New Yorkers,” said Carl Weisbrod, senior advisor, H&RA; and member, “New” New York panel.

“The City is taking bold steps to eliminate outdated regulations and streamline labyrinthine processes that stand in the way of reimagining spaces to meet the ever-growing need for housing, ” said “New” New York Panel Co-Chair Dan Doctoroff. “These initiatives advance the panel’s recommendation in the Making New York Work for Everyone Plan to create sorely-needed flexibility to better enable our business districts to evolve into a more dynamic mix of uses that will fuel economic growth as part of a vibrant and equitable recovery.”

“As our city adjusts to changing commercial needs, our housing crisis continues to burden too many New Yorkers,” said Tom Wright, president and CEO, Regional Plan Association. “Making it easier to facilitate office-to-residential conversions is a critical step to ensure our city has the flexibility to adapt to new realities. We are excited to see that more buildings will be eligible to convert across the city along with technical support to help them move forward. RPA thanks Mayor Adams and his team for these efforts and looks forward to working together to see them succeed.”

“We welcome the Adams administration's efforts to encourage office-to-residential conversions, which, if done well, can enhance New York's long-term competitiveness by adding much needed housing," said Ana Champeny, vice president for research, Citizens Budget Commission. "As shown by the experience of lower Manhattan, regulatory relief and zoning changes can unlock potential conversions that otherwise might not occur. We urge the state legislature to follow the city's lead by taking action to encourage housing growth, including lifting the FAR cap and providing well-designed tax incentives for mixed-income housing.”

“In the face of a chronic housing shortage confronting New York City, The Urban Land Institute (ULI) New York and its members welcome the Adams administration’s efforts to boost housing supply through the proposed legislative and zoning changes announced today,” said Felix Ciampa, executive director, ULI New York.

“Access to affordable and healthy housing is critical to establishing a foundation for social equity – and New York City’s shortage is a true crisis for everyone,” said Wendi Shafran, principal and director of affordable housing, FXCollaborativeArchitects. “We applaud the city for implementing a series of actions removing barriers to office adaptive reuse conversions, including the necessary regulatory changes for the building industry to mobilize on current opportunities. As a life-long New Yorker, I am excited about the impact these new initiatives will have on creating much-needed housing and promoting the vibrancy of our central business districts while establishing sustainable and resilient mixed-use communities.”

“It’s a win-win – these changes will remove outdated zoning impediments to the repurposing of empty office buildings and create much needed housing for New Yorkers,” said James P. Colgate, land use partner, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisnerand.

“We applaud the 'City of Yes' Plan and its transformative approach to our city's challenges,” said Melva M. Miller, CEO, Association for a Better New York. "Converting vacant offices to housing is necessary to unlock the potential for new housing across New York City, and the Office Conversion Accelerator shows visionary leadership in addressing housing shortages swiftly. The 'Midtown South Mixed-Use Plan' further exemplifies the administration's commitment to a dynamic and livable New York, with diversified spaces that offer homes and job opportunities. These initiatives mark crucial steps towards a more equitable and vibrant city.”

“The ability of the private sector to invest in projects that restore the vitality of older Manhattan commercial properties absolutely depends on the proposed zoning and regulatory changes put forward in the Mayor’s City of Yes plan,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO, Partnership for New York City

“We applaud the mayor and our local elected officials for taking action to address our city’s housing shortage through efforts to facilitate office-to-residential conversions,” said James Mettham, president, Flatiron NoMad Partnership. “In Flatiron and NoMad, we have seen how the combination of a thriving residential community, office-based companies, and a diverse range of ground-floor businesses create a vibrant 24/7, mixed-use district. Creating more housing throughout Midtown South will expand the economic benefits that come with mixed-use districts, while making our city more livable for more people.”

“Today’s announcement is an important step in the development of the Garment District as a more vibrant, mixed-use community,” said Barbara A. Blair, president, Garment District Alliance. “From our district’s close proximity to major transportation hubs, to top-notch restaurants, office space and more, the Garment District is a premier location for residential development in New York City. We applaud Mayor Eric Adams, the Department of City Planning, and our elected officials for addressing the compelling need for housing and we look forward to our work together to position Midtown for the future.”  

“Expanding and modernizing these zoning laws will allow for more housing which will help New York City tackle its 500,000-housing unit goal. REBNY applauds the Adams administration for its leadership in conversions and hopes that this leadership will inspire much needed regulatory reform to unlock more opportunities to house New Yorkers,” said Basha Gerhards, senior vice president of planning, Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

“Mayor Adams and his administration continue to show their commitment to solving our housing crisis and ensuring New York remains a vibrant and affordable place to live and work," said Carlo A. Scissura, Esq, president and CEO, New York Building Congress. "Expanding and accelerating office-to-residential conversions, while taking steps to build housing in manufacturing districts, will yield tens of thousands of desperately needed homes for New Yorkers at every income level. Now it's time for our partners in state government to follow suit by matching the year eligibility to 1990, eliminating the 12 FAR cap, creating a tax incentive program, and authorizing additional housing initiatives to keep this momentum going.”

“The New York Real Estate Chamber INC (NYREC) proudly supports the work that the mayor’s office is doing with regard to the City of Yes, Housing Initiative,” said Craig Livingston, chairman, NYREC. With the New Housing Opportunity Zoning changes, opportunities for MBE developers will increase as well as more affordable housing opportunities for the community. The mayor’s office has carefully identified some of the city’s longstanding issues and have proposed impactful changes that support the needs of the business owners, landlords, and residents.”


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