New York City housing advocates, as well as Mayor Eric Adams, Speaker Adrienne Adams and the Hotel Trades Council, are overwhelmingly in support of passing the hotel conversion bill in the state assembly this legislative session to help address the housing crisis.
The city’s tourism sector and normally high demand for hotel rooms dropped significantly in the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and wasn’t really projected to recover until 2025, according to a city planning hotel market analysis. In January 2020, there were 127,810 hotel rooms in over 705 hotel properties citywide that were unceremoniously shutdown, said the analysis.
The brightside: some of these hotels helped house homeless individuals during a major crisis and reignited the idea that vacant hotels could be converted into stable, permanent housing in the future. Thus the hotel conversion bill, S.4937/A.6262, gained traction.
The bill amends the state’s multiple dwelling law to facilitate conversions of existing distressed hotels to affordable permanent housing. It would work in tandem with the newly passed Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA), which basically funds hotel conversions statewide. Occupants would be able to rent or lease a converted room at 30% of their income, modeled after Section 8 and other public housing rent caps.
At the beginning of May, both Mayor Adams and Speaker Adams publicly stated their unwavering support for the idea. “All New Yorkers deserve safe and stable housing, and we have to create more flexibility in our zoning and building codes to allow for the conversion of underutilized and vacant hotels into desperately needed supportive and affordable housing,” said Speaker Adams in a statement.
In a presser on May 1, Mayor Adams spoke about how the city is striving to “holistically” solve the housing crisis and aiming to utilize hotel conversions as a tool to achieve that while feeding the tourism industry. Adams said the focus is to “repurpose underused hotels” and create supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness, and make more affordable, permanent housing available.
“Unlocking hotel conversions is not going after union hotels. It’s going after those hotels that are creating blight,” said Adams in the presser. “They have created conditions in our communities that they use for so many illegal means, and those that are closed, you’re unable to really convert them in a manner that we see so they can be an asset to the community instead of an impediment.”
The bill then went on to pass in the Senate. In a recent letter, former Manhattan Borough President and Councilmember Gale Brewer and other city council members urged the assembly to pass the hotel conversion bill before the session wraps in June. Brewer has been especially vocal on the issue considering a majority of the hotels and hospitality sector are in Manhattan. She said decades ago, in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s these kinds of conversions were allowed.
“We have a housing crisis,” said Brewer, “and these hotels can be converted to permanent supportive housing as the Prince George [Hotel], as the Woodstock [Hotel] were 30 years ago.”
Brewer said that this past year two non-profits were ready with community support to convert about 500 hotel rooms into housing units but were halted because the bill hadn’t passed yet. She said rooms will be converted for less than it would cost to outfit a commercial building. She imagines, if the bill passes, that hotel rooms will be outfitted with kitchenettes and amenities in areas like midtown Manhattan.
Joe Loonam, housing campaign coordinator for VOCAL NY, pointed out that if the state doesn’t act quickly, it’s likely that unused hotel properties would go to real estate developers looking to install pricey, luxury housing instead.
“The thing that folks find really egregious about the shelter system in a lot of cases is the curfews, lack of visitors, the searches as you enter the building,” said Loonam. “There’s a lot of different things that make it feel more like a jail and less like a home. So the big hook with the conversions is that folks can be in spaces where they have more autonomy in their lives.”
Loonam said that he’s confident that the current bill will produce high quality and much needed affordable housing as a result of these conversions.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w