Mayor Adams unveils plans to convert vacant office buildings into housing, transform Midtown

Office buildings in Midtown Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan.
WikiMedia Commons

Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday unveiled a pair of new plans to convert vacant office buildings into housing units, saying the proposals will help create 20,000 new homes for New Yorkers. 

“It’s unbelievable how much empty office space we have sitting idly by with ready and willing participants to develop the housing and we are in the way,” Adams said at a Thursday press conference. “Well, it’s time to get out of the way so we can turn these office cubicles into nice living quarters.”

One idea laid out by the mayor could potentially transform Midtown Manhattan into a residential hub, and unleash a flood of new housing in the business district by rezoning a 42-block area south of Time Square to permit residential usage in buildings currently appropriated only for commercial purposes. 

Under the “Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan,” the entire land from 23rd to 40th Streets, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, would be affected by the change, as property owners would be allowed to use buildings to house New Yorkers, rather than be restricted to only using them as offices and storefronts.

“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,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Adolfo Carrión, Jr.

Another idea, which city leaders have dubbed the “Office Conversion Accelerator program,” aims to cut down on bureaucratic red-tape that has made office-to-housing conversions difficult — which would affect offices across the five boroughs, many of which now sit empty due to the increasingly common trend of remote work. 

Structures built before 1990 would automatically be rezoned to allow residential conversions. The plan will need to go through a review process, but could potentially open up thousands of new homes, Adams said. 

“Today, as part of our ‘City of Yes for Housing Opportunity’ plan, 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,” Hizzoner said in a statement. 

The proposal would also create a task force of representatives from various city agencies dealing with land-use issues, with the goal of streamlining the permitting process and assisting property owners looking to convert their buildings.

Department of City Planning Director Dan Garodnick said the ideas would provide a much-needed influx of housing, as rental prices continue to burden residents of New York — where housing costs are among the highest in the nation

“We are ready to deliver smart zoning changes that will throw a lifeline to underused office buildings and create much-needed housing in the process,” said DCP Director Dan Garodnick. “‘[This] will play an important part in delivering a more affordable, prosperous city.”