New York Borough Presidents Want Albany Lawmakers To Relax Rules Allowing Commercial Spaces To Be Converted To Housing

ALBANY — The presidents of all five New York City boroughs are calling on state legislators to make it easier to convert commercial buildings to residential to address the city’s housing crisis.

A quintet of local officials want the Legislature to make changes to the state budget to allow vacant or unused commercial office space to be converted into apartments, in addition to tax breaks to encourage the inclusion of affordable apartments.

“We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that will only get worse without legislation that creates new and innovative ideas for housing construction,” said Bronx County President Vanessa Gibson, Democrat.

“Giving housing flexibility through the transformation of underutilized commercial real estate will create thousands of new units of affordable, safe and quality housing to combat rising homelessness in our city,” Gibson said.

Bronx County President Vanessa Gibson

A united call from Gibson and her BP colleagues comes as Governor Hochul pushes for a complete change in the state’s approach to housing and development. Mayor Adams also called for a major renovation of vacant offices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several of the city’s business districts, including parts of Midtown Manhattan, have struggled to bounce back from the crisis amid the shift to telecommuting.

Borough presidents are backing the District 5 Housing Movement, a coalition calling on lawmakers to lift restrictions restricting refurbishment.

Buildings, some almost empty, in lower Manhattan.

One of the group’s priorities is to allow existing commercial buildings throughout the city, especially in Manhattan below 96th Street, to be converted to residential.

“Across Manhattan, we are seeing rising prices and shrinking supply, forcing New York families to leave their homes and neighborhoods,” said Democrat Mark Levin, Manhattan County President. “Converting some commercial buildings to residential space could increase the supply of affordable housing and help greatly in the fight against the housing crisis.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, both Democrats, and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, Republican, supported the plan.

Front page New York Daily News December 15, 2022: Plan of Rescue.  In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the government and the mayor are proposing an action plan to fill vacant offices and build 800,000 homes.

The push came after Adams and senior city planners released details of their efforts to convert underused office space into apartments in the city’s busiest business districts, including a plan that would rezonate millions of square feet of space in office buildings.

A City Planning Department study detailing the mayor’s plan indicates that zoning changes will be required to allow retrofitting of pre-1991 buildings.

Currently, such office-to-residential conversions are only permitted in Financial District buildings built in 1977 or earlier, and buildings in other downtown business districts built before 1962.

Hole’s budget plan, released early last month, included much of what Adams and the city called for, such as stimulus and rezoning. The governor and the Democratic-led legislature are currently debating a public spending plan ahead of the April 1 fiscal deadline.

The Governor’s plan will give developers the ability to convert offices to apartments with at least 20% of available apartments and real estate tax relief for 19 years.

New York State Governor Katie Hochul speaks at a news conference in New York on November 22, 2022.

Projects will receive a full property tax exemption during the construction period, while buildings south of 96th Street in Manhattan will receive a 50 percent exemption for 15 years, and properties outside the area will receive a 35 percent exemption for the same period.

The cut could face opposition from progressive Democrats in the Legislature, who have openly opposed giving tax breaks to large property developers.

This could thwart Hole’s plans to build 800,000 new housing units in the state over the next decade by limiting commercial conversions.

“We need to be on deck as we strive to create safe, dignified and sustainable housing for all who call our city home,” Reynoso said.

“There is no need for all of these commercial spaces to remain empty and unused when, by working together and thinking creatively, we can turn these commercial buildings into hundreds and hundreds of homes for the people and families who need them.”

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