Good morning. It’s Thursday. Today we’ll look at an idea for turning empty office space into apartments.
What if you lived in an apartment that did not have its own kitchen or bathroom?
A New York think tank called the 5Boro Institute says such apartments could put a dent in two crises the city is facing — the chronic shortage of housing and the surplus of office space in Manhattan. 5Boro maintains that empty office space could be turned into housing for “flexible co-living,” with communal kitchens and bathrooms.
5Boro argues in a new report that such conversions would cost less and could be completed faster than conventional office-to-residential conversions.
5Boro says there is just over 100 million square feet of available office space in Manhattan. That figure could grow as long-term leases go unrenewed — or as commercial tenants take less space, because remote work means fewer employees are going into the office.
5Boro’s report says that flexible co-living, a twist on co-living, or “dorms for adults,” could turn the empty space into apartments and surmount the architectural and regulatory problems that often stymie office-to-residential project. The group is calling for the city to set up a pilot conversion.
“Given the state of the housing crisis and the fact that New York is tied for first place in a global ranking of the most expensive cities in the world, we need to be trying new ideas,” said Grace Rauh, the executive director of 5Boro and an author of a new report about office-to-resident conversions. “We think not only is this doable, but we think this is a way to maximize the amount of housing that can be created through office-to-residential conversions and to minimize the costs, so rents for tenants can be much more affordable.”
5Boro’s report notes that putting residential tenants in unused office space would provide “one potential pathway forward for the struggling commercial office sector.” The report says that converting offices to flexible co-living spaces would cost half of the $300 to $500 per square foot that developers typically spend on office-to-apartment conversions.
The report also says co-living has economic benefits for tenants: Co-living apartments rent for 30 percent less than conventional apartments, it found. “For millennials and members of Gen Z who are getting priced out of N.Y.C. or cannot afford to move to the city,” the report said, “co-living could be a particularly appealing model.” The report said the same goes for single people, “who pay a premium to live here in one-bedroom apartments.”
Apartments that are essentially small rooms with a window — with communal kitchens and bathrooms — have a back-to-the-future quality, because single-room occupancy hotel rooms can conjure memories from the 1970s and 1980s.
The pilot project 5Boro is proposing is not aimed at housing for formerly homeless people; they would be units at the affordable end of the market-rate spectrum.
Regulatory hurdles — zoning restrictions and building code rules — can make office-to-residential conversions costly or impossible. 5Boro says the city sets 150 square feet as the minimum for living space in a residential building. Some hotel rooms are smaller by only a few square feet, but the structural renovations necessary to change the size or shape of the rooms on a given floor could be prohibitive.
One section of the report discusses “interior window flexibility” — putting a window in a room that looks into an adjacent room. The city’s building code and the state’s multiple dwelling law generally require bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens to have at least one exterior window.
Rauh acknowledged that “changing the regulatory framework around housing in New York has proven to be quite difficult.” But she said that she believed there was “room for reform to allow the city to experiment and innovate.”
Mayor Eric Adams has recognized that regulations can crimp such conversions. “It’s unbelievable how much empty office space we have sitting idly, by with ready and willing participants to develop the housing, and we are in the way,” he said in August. “Well, it’s time to get out of the way so we can turn these office cubicles into nice living quarters so that we can address the housing crisis we have.”
Enjoy a sunny day with temps reaching the mid-70s. At night, it will be cloudy with a chance of showers late, and the low will be 63.
In effect until Saturday (Shemini Atzeret).
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Middle of the room
I was born in New York and have been bringing my daughters to the city for years.
On one of our trips, we went to a restaurant near Lincoln Center where we had eaten many times before. Two college friends of my daughters who were living in the city joined us.
I asked for a table in the middle of the dining room so that we could enjoy the busy chatter around us.
As we sat down, I noticed a woman sitting nearby with what appeared to be her family, young members and old, and she seemed to notice me. After my daughters, their friends and I ordered our drinks, the woman tapped my shoulder.
“Love your purse,” she said. I said it belonged to one of my daughters.
The woman continued to talk, and my daughters soon joined in. Before we knew it, her table — parents, husband, teenage daughter — and ours were acting like long-lost family.
The food arrived, and we all began to eat. I asked the server to bring them another bottle of the wine they were drinking. My new friend came over and hugged me. I hugged her back. We didn’t say anything.
Before we could order dessert, they ordered several treats for us. We laughed. I asked the server to bring them desserts, and they clapped when the desserts arrived. We cheered.