No vacancy: State’s $100M plan to convert hotels to housing finds few takers

Only one applicant sought to take advantage of state dollars to repurpose rooms


It seemed like a no-brainer: Use state dollars to subsidize the conversion of hotels that were not being used because of the pandemic to badly needed housing units for low-income families and the homeless.

But a $100 million state plan approved last August to do just that has been an absolute failure, with just one applicant looking to make a conversion.

The reason, according to the website Politico, are regulations by the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal that made it difficult to get the job done, although the legislation itself is arguably to blame for that.

Some of the tough-to-digest rules weren’t in the original version of the bill, which was pushed by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and Assembly member Karines Reyes (D-Bronx), but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration worried that allowing the conversion of hotels in manufacturing zones or letting residents move into homes without necessities such as a full-size refrigerator or stove would result in a return to the days of the cold-water flat.

And sticking to city zoning rules meant the cost of a conversion would go way up.

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“There are very few hotels that physically could be converted and comply with the requirements of today’s zoning and building code without substantial, expansive reconstruction, partial removal or demolition,” James Colgate, who has advised clients on zoning issues including the conversions of hotels, told the website. “That would increase the costs greatly.”

Some advocates of below-market-rate housing who pushed for the plan agreed with the more expensive provisions, but argued the amount of money being set aside simply wasn’t enough.

“We didn’t want a program that cut corners to make it more palatable to developers,” Joseph Loonam, housing campaign coordinator for the advocacy group VOCAL-NY, told Politico. “We wanted a program that centered the needs of homeless New Yorkers, which is true high quality affordable housing where they can have full autonomy and dignity.”

The program is still available to any takers, but the state didn’t add more funding to it in this year’s budget plan, citing its lack of traction.

[Politico] — Vince DiMiceli