Adams, Frustrated With State Legislators, Advances Office-to-Residential Conversions

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Two months after the legislative session in Albany, N.Y. ended, yielding few opportunities for office-to-residential conversions, Mayor Eric Adams is pulling out the stops.

At least that’s what new aspects of his plan to create more housing from obsolete office properties aim to achieve through zoning and individual permits.

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Depending on which part of the city, the cutoff for office-to-residential conversions under the current zoning rules is anything built after 1961 or 1977, but the Adams administration plans to make anything built before 1990 eligible, too, the mayor announced Thursday morning via press release.

The administration will also allow — where the zoning permits — conversions to any type of housing from supportive housing, shared housing and dorms. Landlords will be able to get a head start in the regulatory process by going through the Office Conversion Accelerator program.

“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,” Adams said in a statement. “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.”

Action from the state will still be needed for the Adams plan to reach its full potential, however, with a lift on the 12-floor area ratio (FAR) cap and a tax incentive for housing developers like 421a.

Adams will focus on Manhattan by introducing the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan, which will update the zoning between 23rd Street and 40th Street from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. It will ditch the century-old policy that only allows manufacturing uses, as well as a 2018 rezoning to allow for more office.

The mayor first signaled his intentions for the Garment District in particular in his January State of the City address.

The plan means that 136 million square feet of office could potentially be converted into housing, according to the Adams administration.

“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,” Carlo Scissura, CEO of the New York Building Congress, said in a statement.

Public engagement with the proposal will begin this fall and wrap up in early 2024.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.