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.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversion of commercial space to long-term housing (especially, but not only, affordable housing) remains a topic of discussion amongst New York City policymakers. Repurposing under-utilized commercial space as housing might appear as a rebalancing of land uses in response to shifting demand—as well as a way to build new housing with fewer neighborhood objections over bulk and height. To better understand these opportunities and to supplement its prior research on the issue, the Furman Center held a workshop with leading architects, land use lawyers, housing providers, and policy experts. This brief addresses some of the most important barriers to commercial-to-residential
conversions, with a particular focus on hotels, and the options for policy interventions to promote additional conversions.