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NYC unveils plan to convert vacant office space, create 20,000 new homes

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Mayor Eric Adams has released details of a plan to turn empty offices into brand new apartments to help relieve New York City’s affordable housing crunch.

Adams’ office conversion blueprint includes specific proposals to ease zoning restrictions and offer tax breaks to property owners. The plan, which draws on recommendations from a city task force convened in July, could pave the way for up to 20,000 new apartments over the next decade, Adams said.

“The need for housing is desperate, and the opportunity offered by underused office space is clear,” he said in a statement. “These concrete reforms would clear red tape and create the incentives to create the housing we need for New Yorkers at all income levels.”

Remote work has drastically reduced the use of office space throughout New York City. The task force’s study found that employees come to the office less than half as often as they did before the COVID pandemic, and about 20% of Manhattan offices were available to rent in the second half of 2022—up from 10% in 2019.

A controversial plan to transform the area around Penn Station into a massive new office district has faced delays as officials and skittish developers consider the future of in-person work.

Lawmakers, housing advocates and New Yorkers in need of an apartment have for years discussed measures to turn offices into homes, with underwhelming results. But last month, Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul positioned workplace conversions as a central component of their joint plan to “reimagine New York’s commercial districts as vibrant 24/7 destinations.”

Adams’ announcement comes a day before Hochul delivers her annual State of the State Address, a speech expected to focus on housing and affordability.

Hochul last month revealed her goal of building 800,000 new affordable homes statewide—a plan she is likely to outline during her speech Tuesday.

That ambitious plan coincides with Adams’ “moonshot” aim to build 500,000 housing units in the five boroughs.

New housing is sorely needed, especially for low-income New Yorkers who struggle to find apartments as rents, evictions and homelessness rise.

Nearly 69,000 people spend each night in a shelter run by the New York City Department of Homeless Services, and the vacancy rate in apartments priced below $1,500 a month has plummeted below 1%, according to the city’s most recent housing survey.

Adams’ office conversion proposal would target Midtown Manhattan, as well as other commercial districts, like Downtown Flushing and Bronx Hub. The plan would also allow for a range of housing types, including supportive housing for people who have experienced homelessness and would require changes to city and state laws around zoning requirements.

But prior plans to turn empty hotels into sorely needed apartments have stalled, despite widespread support and a dedicated pool of state funding.

New York City Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz said office conversions add another potential source of new apartments.

“To solve our housing shortage, we need every tool possible,” Katz said.

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