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Midtown Manhattan’s empty offices could be converted to affordable housing

Advocates envision idle offices re-zoned to alleviate housing crisis.

November 17, 2020 |

With Midtown Manhattan’s office towers drastically under-occupied as employees work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, some housing advocates foresee new uses for these spaces.

A study by commercial broker CBRE found that only 10% of Manhattan workers have returned to the office as of Sept. 18. If the number of workers to return to an office setting after the pandemic abates remains significantly lower than it was before the pandemic, these spaces could be a solution to the housing shortage.

Housing advocates would like to see vacant offices converted into new residential projects, especially for affordable housing. Such a movement would require zoning reform and could be accelerated with targeted policy initiatives.

The city already has an example of this concept being implemented in the mid-1990s. The 421-g program, a series of tax breaks for commercial-to-residential conversions, was used to revitalize Lower Manhattan.

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