NYC talked about converting hotels into affordable housing. Nothing’s happened yet

Regulatory and zoning rules stymie plans touted by lawmakers, advocates

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)

As the pandemic shut out tourists and shuttered hotels, some New York City politicians and housing advocates seized on the properties as an answer to the city’s struggling hotels and homelessness.

More than a year and a half after the city’s hotel industry hit its nadir, not a single one has been converted into permanent affordable housing since the onset of the pandemic, the New York Times reported.

A slew of zoning and regulatory obstacles make conversions either impossible or cost-prohibitive for nonprofits, according to the Times. The regulations have led some of the properties to be converted into transient shelters instead of permanent housing.

The city’s paltry progress stands in stark contrast to the picture in California, where 120 sites (mostly hotels) have been converted into 5,911 housing units, largely through its $850 million Project Homekey.

“The opportunity is kind of slipping away,” Eric Rosenbaum, president of homeless resource nonprofit Project Renewal, told the Times.

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The Hotel Association of New York City said almost 200 hotels in the city were closed between May 2020 and June 2021, with nearly half of them still shut as of mid-November. Hotel owners were willing to part ways with buildings at big discounts during the height of the pandemic, but nonprofits couldn’t afford compliance with zoning and regulatory requirements.

The 2020 annual estimate of the homeless population in New York City totaled 78,000, but that figure is believed to be an undercount. The city’s shelter population has fallen by about 20 percent from its peak, in part because of the eviction moratorium, a rise in apartment vacancies and a drop in rents as tenants fled the city. Still, about 48,000 people sleep in shelters each night.

There may be help on the way for more affordable housing through state and local government.

The state passed the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act, or HONDA, in June, potentially setting up more hotel conversions. The bill allocated up to $100 million for hotels and commercial buildings to be converted into affordable housing, pending specified requirements. The money remains unused.

Additionally, Mayor-elect Eric Adams in September proposed converting more than a thousand hotel rooms into supportive and affordable housing. He hasn’t offered any details, but a spokesperson for Adams told the Times a “comprehensive plan” would be ready when he takes office.

[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner

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