Challenges and Opportunities for Hotel-to-Housing Conversions in New York City

As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, policymakers in New York City and Albany have debated whether and how to support the conversion of hotels into housing—and especially affordable housing—as part of a solution to the city’s ongoing housing crisis. COVID has forced the shuttering of many commercial establishments, especially in hard-hit New York City. In certain sectors, the effect has been particularly large: these include hotels devastated by shutdowns in tourism, international travel, and business travel.

At the same time as these spaces are sitting empty, though, Americans have faced unprecedented challenges in paying their rent—on top of preexisting rent burdens that had been driving housing instability and homelessness well before COVID. It is logical to want to use these spaces—these important physical assets—rather than let them remain unoccupied, and housing is an attractive use. To better understand what opportunities for hotel conversion exist in New York City, this paper examines the legal regime governing hotel conversions to identify the most important regulatory barriers to such adaptive uses.