Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday called on Albany to pass legislation that makes it easier for New York City to convert vacant and underused hotels into affordable housing. Introduced earlier this year by Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz and State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, the bill creates an exemption to zoning rules that require developers to undergo the city’s lengthy land use review process or complete major renovations for hotels to become permanent housing. While the idea of converting hotels into housing has been floated by lawmakers for years without getting off the ground, the city’s growing housing and homelessness crises have renewed a push from officials.
“We are facing a homelessness crisis and an affordable housing crisis, but, with the help of our partners in Albany, we can work to tackle them both with one tool,” Adams said in a statement. “By repurposing underused hotels, we can create supportive housing faster and cheaper. We can make affordable, permanent housing available to families, seniors, and any New Yorker in need, including our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
Last summer, the state legislature passed the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA), which funds the purchase and rehabilitation of “distressed commercial real estate for the purposes of maintaining or increasing affordable housing.” The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Michael Gianaris, made $100 million available to facilitate hotel to housing conversions in New York City. But because of restrictive zoning rules and housing codes, none of the money from HONDA has been used, as New York Focus reported.
The bill from Cymbrowitz and Kavanagh provides affordable housing developers a loophole when it comes to converting hotels into supportive and affordable homes, allowing for conversions without “cost-prohibitive land use review processes or renovations.”
According to the bill’s text: “Only hotels located in a zoning district that allows for residential use, or within 400 feet of such a residential district, would be eligible for conversion pursuant to this bill, to ensure that any tenants would have access to the appropriate residential resources and amenities.”
“The legislation that Sen. Kavanagh and I introduced creates a viable process for addressing two critical issues facing our city — the lack of affordable and supportive housing and the increase in vacant and underutilized hotel space resulting from the pandemic,” Cymbrowitz said in a statement.
“The support from Mayor Adams, city and state representatives, and housing and labor advocates sends a strong message to Albany that this legislation needs to be passed this session to meet the urgent affordable housing needs of New Yorkers, while at the same time alleviating the pressure on commercial real estate.”
Adams has been a vocal supporter of converting empty hotels into affordable housing, which was a proposal he introduced during his campaign. During a press conference on Sunday, Adams, who was joined by the hotel workers union, the Hotel Trades Council, said underused hotels are also a “public safety problem,” with some of the locations operating illegally.
“This is the right legislation at the right time to access funds that we have been eager to utilize for far so long,” Adams said during the event. “Let’s get this money out there in the pipeline so we can move forward and create affordable apartments more quickly and cheaply than starting from scratch.”
According to Adams, the city has about 25,000 beds that could become available as part of the program. The legislature adjourns for the year on June 2.
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