New York City has unveiled an ambitious plan to address both the surplus of vacant office spaces resulting from remote work trends and the pressing need for affordable housing. The initiative, led by Mayor Eric Adams, aims to repurpose empty office buildings into as many as 20,000 new housing units.
To facilitate this transformation, a multi-agency group comprising officials from various city departments, such as the Department of Buildings, the Department of City Planning, and the Board of Standards and Appeals, will collaborate under the newly established Office Conversions Accelerator.
Mayor Adams, along with Governor Kathy Hochul, initially sought legislative support for a broader housing program earlier this year but faced opposition from fellow Democratic lawmakers in Albany. Despite setbacks, the city has forged ahead with its localized solution to the housing crisis.
The plan focuses on incentivizing developers to convert office spaces built before 1990 into residential units, a significant expansion of the existing eligibility criteria. The proposal covers an additional 136 million square feet of office space, equivalent to Philadelphia’s total office area.
Furthermore, the initiative permits office-to-housing conversions across all residential construction-allowed zones within the city.
A notable feature of the plan is the reimagining of Midtown South, a section of Manhattan below Times Square. This area, bounded by Fifth Avenue and Eighth Avenue and spanning from 23rd Street to 40th Street, is envisioned as a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Under the proposal, four areas previously zoned for manufacturing half a century ago will now be open to residential development, including affordable housing units.
The transformation of vacant offices into housing units is seen as a complex and costly endeavor — with estimates putting the cost at as much as $500 per square foot. To address these challenges, city officials are exploring various avenues, including tax incentives and streamlined approval processes.
However, they acknowledge that significant progress will require state-level approvals. Mayor Adams has called on the state legislature to consider implementing a tax incentive for office conversions, particularly since a tax incentive for affordable housing construction, known as 421-a, lapsed last year without replacement.
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