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New York City Launches New Office-To-Resi Accelerator, Plan To Rezone Midtown

After coming up empty in his housing agenda in Albany this year, New York Mayor Eric Adams kicked off a new effort to spur more office-to-residential conversions in the five boroughs.

Mayor Eric Adams speaks at REBNY's 127th annual gala.

At a press conference Thursday, Adams and city officials unveiled an Office Conversion Accelerator, a one-stop shop that Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer described as “a concierge service” where developers and landlords can go to navigate the myriad city agencies they need to work with to execute the complex projects.

The city also unveiled a Midtown South Mixed-Use Plan to rezone four areas between 23rd and 40th streets and between Fifth and Eighth avenues. The targeted areas, which span 42 blocks combined include the Garment District and several blocks just to the west of Madison Square Park. Residential uses aren't allowed in current zoning, which permits office and manufacturing.

“It's time to get out of the way so we can turn these office cubicles into nice living quarters so that we can address the housing crisis we have,” Adams said. “The new regulation will also allow a wider variety of housing types to be created, like supportive housing, dorms and shared housing.”

The city plans to kick off public outreach on the rezoning in the fall.

“When life hands you empty offices, you convert them to housing. Creating the housing New Yorkers need by converting underused office space is a no brainer,” Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. said in a statement. “We need new housing in every neighborhood across the city, from Midtown to Midwood.”

The Office Conversion Accelerator comes months after the city’s January creation of an Adaptive Reuse Task Force and is designed as a way to cut red tape for owners interested in pursuing conversions, officials said.

Old office buildings may need help from a variety of city agencies — like the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Department of Buildings, the Fire Department and the Department of Environmental Protection — for conversions.

“Those are many, many agencies, and it often takes way too long,” Torres-Springer said. “The goal for the Accelerator Program is to get through that entire permitting process in about six months, because every day that we delay the conversion of a building into housing is another day that we don't make as much of a dent in our housing crisis as we need to.”

City officials did not announce any new funding for office owners to pursue conversions, instead saying that they are waiting for action from the state government to help create incentives for including income-restricted housing units.

“For the Conversion Program, what we need is that tax incentive from Albany,” Torres-Springer said. “That is the type of incentive that will ensure not just that buildings like this are feasible to convert, but that we get the affordable housing in those buildings.”

Developers have filed comparatively few plans for new housing developments since the end of the 421-a tax break last year, which they said was fundamental to building affordable housing units.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced ambitious housing plans earlier this year, including a replacement for 421-a, but the state legislature ended its annual session this year without passing any of the measures, resulting in outcry from industry figures and housing advocates alike. She introduced a new, 421-a-like incentive for developments in Gowanus, but it received a lukewarm reaction from developers, The Real Deal reported.