Flexibility and Conversions in New York City’s Housing Stock: Building for an Era of Rapid Change

The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest crisis to bring rapid, lasting transformation to American cities. In places like New York City, demand for office spaces and hotels may never return to pre-pandemic levels, while the retail sector continues to decline with the rise of e-commerce. Given these shifting market conditions, conversions of commercial space into
apartments may be a critical tool for adaptation. Among other things, conversions could offer a modest-but-important tool for increasing the overall housing supply — thereby helping improve housing affordability. This research paper seeks to understand the potential scope of such conversions, to identify the barriers that might inhibit them, and to call for regulatory flexibility where appropriate to enable the built environment to adapt as demand shifts, in both predictable and unpredictable ways.