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In the earliest days of the pandemic, as it became clear that people could do their work remotely and the economy would not collapse, some began to wonder why New York's empty office buildings couldn’t be converted to much-needed housing. More recently, Mayor Eric Adams announced new plans that would lead to meaningful steps in that direction. The city seeks to rezone 23rd to 40th Street from Fifth to Eighth Avenues, which is currently zoned for manufacturing use, to allow the construction of residential apartments.
Additional proposed zoning changes allow office buildings constructed before 1990 to convert to housing (bumping up the current cutoff of 1977 at the latest) and allowing buildings to convert to housing wherever the current zoning regulations allow for it. It is a daunting process because of the many agencies that must get involved, but Mayor Adams also established the Office Conversions Accelerator with representatives of various city departments to facilitate the conversions to residential. The mayor once said of remote work, “You can’t sit around in your pajamas all day,” but even he admits that “the world has changed [and] we have to be willing to change with it.”

“By enabling office conversions, New York will reinvigorate its business districts and deliver new homes near jobs and transit” – Maria Torres-Springer, Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce

The announcement is the first step in a long process. The public outreach process is set to begin this fall, and the plans must be approved by the City Council in a vote estimated for next year. The New York Times notes that two Councilmembers who represent the area in question support the plan; however, New York State’s multiple dwellings law includes requirements that New York City cannot alter, and this must also be addressed. Furthermore, offices are notoriously difficult to convert because of requirements concerning windows, egress, kitchens, and bathrooms.
Nevertheless, it is not an impossible undertaking. The Financial District is a textbook example of the success of converting offices to residential, and it is now a live-work-play area. Before that, industrial buildings in downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn got converted to loft apartments by intrepid artists who transformed these desolate areas into hot neighborhoods.

Waverly Mews, #PHT (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

Greenwich Place, #PHC (Pulse International Realty Inc)

Belltel Lofts, #8D (Compass)

Forward Building, #4A (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

One Wall Street, #831 (Compass)

The Silk Building, #815 (Compass)

Liberty Tower, #PH31A (Serhant LLC)

49 Chambers Street, #12C (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

262 Mott Street, #301 (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

The Police Building, #6N (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

27 Great Jones Street, #2W (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

One Hundred Barclay Tribeca, #14G (Living New York)

Lion's Head, #PHF (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

144 Franklin Street, #3FL (Compass)

554 Broome Street, #PH (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

Artisan Lofts, #10A (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

443 Greenwich Street, #PHE (Compass)
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