New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Advocates Push for Manhattan Office Space to Become Affordable Co-Ops

Midtown South

Offices to Co-ops
April 12, 2024

Nearly a quarter of Manhattan's office space is sitting empty, part of the long hangover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the city is suffering from a chronic shortage of affordable housing. A new coalition headed by National Cooperative Bank (NCB) believes it has the solution to both problems.

Change zoning laws so that vacant office space in Midtown Manhattan can be converted to 20,000 affordable, shared-equity co-ops.

In 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city was committing $24 billion toward the development of affordable housing across the five boroughs. The coalition led by NCB is urging that 15% or those funds — $3.6 billion — be used to create permanently affordable cooperative housing in Manhattan Midtown South by converting existing vacant office space for residential use.

“By converting unoccupied commercial real estate to affordable, shared-equity housing is a win-win for New York City,” says Casey Fannon, president and chief executive at NCB. “Many residents are displaced from living where they work. By providing access to shared-equity, affordable housing, residents will help stabilize the local economy, strengthen the civic infrastructure and anchor populations of workers who pay taxes and plan to stay in New York City.”

Office-to-housing conversions are a key component of the Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan and Mayor’s “City of Yes” zoning changes, which address the growing need for residential housing and the economic impact of remote work on commercial real estate in New York City. By taking advantage of these zoning amendments and dedicating a portion of the City’s funding commitment to cooperative, shared-equity models, New York will be able to transform underused space into 20,000 permanently affordable homes for 50,000 residents over the next 10 years. This growth represents one small, but critical step toward the 500,000 additional housing units NYC will need by 2032 in order to meet demand.

The commercial-to-residential push comes at a time when a record number of office buildings have fallen behind on their property taxes — a direct result of the pandemic-induced vacancy rate.

“There’s a great deal of vacant real estate right now,” Stuart Saft, a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight, tells “There’s a great deal of debt on these office buildings that’s coming due this year and in 2025 and the concern is, what do we do?” But Saft cautions that some people interested in converting buildings cannot do so because of the way the city's zoning laws are currently written.

Hence the Adams administration's proposed Midtown South Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan and the "City of Yes" zoning change proposals — which have won the support of the new coalition.

"Shared-equity and housing cooperative ownership models have been a successful form of affordable housing in New York City for over 100 years," says Margy Brown, executive director of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), which belongs to the new coalition and has been instrumental in converting distressed properties into thriving coopertives. "Access to additional housing will advance the working class into the ownership class, anchor essential workers to the communities they serve, and uplift those communities to full and fulfilling civic vitality."

The coalition calls itself the New Cooperative, Labor and Mutualist Coalition for Affordable Housing. Its members include: NCB; UHAB; Amalgamated Bank; the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums; the National Cooperative Business Association; the Cooperative Development Foundation; the  Mutualist Society; and Inclusiv, a community development credit union. The coalition is coordinated by 1worker1vote, which helps develop union co-ops.

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