New York Construction Report staff writer
With a worsening housing shortage, New York City is looking at ways to convert underused office space.
Drafted by the Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force, and led by the department of city planning (DCP), the New York City Office Adaptive Reuse Study made 11 recommendations that would make changes to state laws and city zoning requirements and extend flexible conversion regulations to an additional 136 million square feet of office space — roughly the amount of office space in the entire city of Philadelphia.
While property owners will determine whether to convert their buildings, new recommendations and current city and state regulations, office could potentially create up to 20,000 homes in the next decade to house up to 40,000 people.
“With this study, we have a roadmap to deliver on a vision for a more vibrant, resilient, prosperous, and affordable city,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “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.”
The study outlines goals in ‘New’ New York: Making New York Work for Everyone, an action plan released in December by Mayor Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul — including reimagining the city’s commercial districts, making Midtown Manhattan and other business districts more mixed-use and flexible, and expanding the city’s supply of housing.
“After every crisis, New York City reinvents itself, which is why it is so important for our codes and regulations to stay flexible. The Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force recommendations will help us meet the moment and rise to each new challenge with a built environment that is as dynamic and diverse as New Yorkers themselves,” said Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz. “To solve our housing shortage, we need every tool possible.”
The task force’s recommendations include:
- Expanding the universe of office buildings with the most flexible regulations for conversion to residential use from buildings constructed through 1961 to those constructed through 1990 — easing the potential conversion process for an additional 120 million square feet of office space;
- Expanding flexible conversion regulations to all high-intensity office districts, including Downtown Flushing and the Bronx Hub — easing the potential conversion process for an additional 16 million square feet of office space;
- Finding opportunities to allow housing, whether through conversions or new construction, in a centrally located, high-density part of Midtown that currently prohibits residential development;
- Allowing office buildings to convert to various much-needed types of housing, including supportive housing;
- Providing flexibility for offices to convert all existing space into housing, eliminating limitations that incentivize only partial conversions or make conversion projects infeasible;
- Exploring and pursuing a tax incentive program to support the production of affordable and mixed-income housing through office conversions — adding to the city’s affordable housing stock without deterring other private investment in conversions and housing creation; and
- Creating a property tax abatement program to incentivize retrofitting office space for child care centers, building on the Accessible, Equitable, High-Quality, Affordable: A Blueprint for Child Care & Early Childhood Education in New York City.
These recommended reforms would be implemented via changes to state law and regulatory changes through a city zoning text amendment.
“Outdated regulations that no longer serve their intended purpose are a roadblock to solving some of the most intractable challenges the city is facing today,” said Acting DOB Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik. “The necessary changes to the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law and the city’s zoning resolution recommended in this study will finally give property owners a pathway to convert their empty office buildings into the housing this city desperately needs.
“I applaud the task force on their commonsense recommendations to reduce red tape and streamline the conversion process.”