Jan 16, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: 46 NYC office buildings could convert to apartments under city's new plan

Illustration of a bed inside of a briefcase.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A program to jumpstart the conversion of old New York City office buildings into residential space is up and running.

What's happening: A total of 46 buildings are enrolled in NYC's Office Conversion Accelerator, which kicked off in August. Four have already begun the conversion process, and are expected to create more than 2,100 housing units, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams' administration tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Post-pandemic, cities have no choice but to evolve.

The big picture: While converting some of that empty office space into apartments seems like a no-brainer, it's much easier said than done. It's complex and expensive, and city building restrictions often get in the way.

  • City and state leaders across the country started talking about office conversions from the early days of the pandemic — and now, sweeping government programs to spur the process are finally taking shape.

How it works: NYC's Office Conversion Accelerator includes representatives from several city agencies — including the Department of City Planning, the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to name a few.

  • It aims to create a first-of-its-kind support system for helping the owners of buildings navigate the process.
  • The program assists with things like identifying and addressing barriers to conversion, analyzing zoning feasibility, and helping projects secure the necessary permits.

State of play: The mayor's office is also proposing a package of changes to city regulations to eliminate red tape that's standing in the way of more conversions. Those changes — which could get a City Council vote this year — include:

  • Conversion eligibility for any building constructed prior to 1990 (currently the cutoff is 1961 or 1977, depending on the area).
  • Allowing non-residential buildings to convert to housing anywhere in the city that residential uses are permitted (right now, conversions are allowed only in a small number of office districts).
  • Enabling a wider variety of conversions — into formats like shared housing and dorms.

Of note: The proposed legislation would also end parking mandates for any new housing — not just office conversions.

  • Parking is a major hindrance to development: It costs tens of thousands of dollars per spot, and takes up space that could otherwise be used for more housing. (Minneapolis has kept a lid on rent growth by eliminating parking requirements.)

Meanwhile: The Adams administration is also asking state lawmakers to put tax incentives in place for converting offices into affordable housing.

What they're saying: "We are reimagining our central business districts by helping convert empty offices into affordable homes, upgrading outdated commercial spaces, [and] creating vibrant new public spaces," says Mayor Adams.

  • "As we work with our partners across levels of government and in the private sector, New York City can serve as a model for cities across the country and the world for using creative policymaking and smart planning to deliver a strong, inclusive recovery."
Go deeper