Adams seeks to juice housing with Midtown rezoning

Mayor proposes Manhattan rezoning to allow conversions of offices

Eric Adams
Eric Adams (Getty, Illustration by Shea Monahan for The Real Deal)

Mayor Eric Adams wants to rezone Midtown to help meet his goal of adding half a million homes citywide.

In his second State of the City address, the mayor laid out policy priorities in what he called the “Working People’s Agenda,” focused on jobs, safety, housing and care. He announced that in the coming weeks, community engagement will begin on the prospect of rezoning Midtown to allow residential construction in areas that only permit manufacturing and office use.

He also said city officials will work on a plan to improve waterfront access and expand mixed-use development on the North Shore of Staten Island, citing calls from City Council member Kamillah Hanks to create a master plan for the district.

The potential Midtown rezoning follows a recommendation by a city-led task force, which noted that much of the area between West 23rd and West 41st streets is zoned for manufacturing. That prevents ground-up residential development and conversions of vacant office space for residential use.

The task force also recommended that the city consider creating a tax incentive for office-to-residential conversions that include affordable housing.

The administration projects that office conversions could lead to 20,000 new apartments. But that would require changes to the Multiple Dwelling Law, including lifting the cap on the city’s residential floor area ratio.

Politico reported that the rezoning proposal already has the backing of local Council members Erik Bottcher and Keith Powers, whose positions would determine the outcome of the city’s land use review.

“They are not saying not in my backyard, they are saying build in my backyard,” Adams said of Bottcher and Powers. “Hats off to them.”

Eugene Travers, land use attorney with Kramer Levin, said he was encouraged by the mayor’s shoutout to the council members.

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“It seems we’re slowly moving past that anti-development rhetoric of years past,” he said.

The rezoning would include the Garment District, which was rezoned in 2018 to encourage more office space. But the new plan has the support of the area’s business improvement district.

“Allowing for residential in this district would significantly expand the city’s housing supply, fill inevitable vacancies within office buildings, and transform the Garment District into a truly mixed-use, 24/7 neighborhood, with a full-time population filling the streets and supporting small businesses,” said Barbara Blair, president of the Garment District Alliance, in a statement.

According to the city, only 13 percent of newly permitted housing units in 2021 were in Manhattan. That put it behind every borough except Staten Island. Adams has said he wants to add 500,000 units of housing over the next decade.

The Council, which has controlled land use since a landmark 1989 court case, is a necessary partner in that effort.

“From the moment I took office, I’ve said that we want to work in partnership with Council members and communities to build more housing together,” the mayor said in his speech at Queens Theatre. “And more and more of our Council colleagues are standing up to be part of the solution.”

Adams also said the city is investing more than $22 million in tenant protection programs, including more staffers to “increase investigations and enforcement against bad landlords.” In his speech, the mayor indicated that this would include hiring actors to pose as Section 8 tenants to crack down on landlords discriminating against voucher holders.

He also said all buildings will be required to replace sidewalk sheds with “newly designed structures that preserve the vibrancy of our streets.”

The mayor announced a $20 million investment to create a “first-in-the-nation” biotech innovation hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as first reported by The City. Adams also plans to launch a pilot program to provide free broadband access to about 650 Section 8 households in the Bronx and northern Manhattan, City & State reported.

In September, the mayor announced that the city had reached its target of awarding $25 billion in contracts to M/WBE firms three years ahead of schedule. Adams on Thursday pledged to award $60 billion by 2030.

Adams announced a number of initiatives aimed at job training and creating opportunities for New Yorkers. He did not lay out strategies for ramping up hiring in city agencies with staffing shortages, notably the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and City Planning. The large number of vacancies put his housing plan at risk from the moment it was announced.

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