It seemed like a no-brainer: using state dollars to subsidize the conversion of hotels that were unused due to the pandemic into much-needed housing units for low-income families and the homeless.
But a $100 million state plan approved last August to do just that has been an outright flop, with only one candidate seeking to make a conversion.
The reason, according to the Politico website, is costly and tax regulations by the state’s Housing and Community Renewal Division that made it difficult to get the job done.
Some of these hard-to-digest rules weren’t in the original version of the bill, which was pushed by State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes (D-Bronx) , but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration feared that allowing hotels to be converted into manufacturing areas or letting residents move into homes without necessities such as a full-size refrigerator or stove would would lead to a return to the days of the cold water apartment.
And sticking to city zoning rules meant the cost of a conversion would increase.
“There are very few hotels that could physically be converted and meet today’s zoning and building code requirements without substantial and extensive reconstruction, partial removal or demolition,” James Colgate, who has advised clients on zoning matters, including hotel conversions, the website says. “That would increase the costs significantly.”
Some proponents of below-market housing who lobbied for the plan agreed with the more expensive provisions, but argued that the amount of money set aside was simply not enough.
“We didn’t want a program that cut corners to make it more palatable to developers,” Joseph Loonam, housing campaign coordinator for the advocacy group VOCAL-NY, told Politico. “We wanted a program that focused on the needs of homeless New Yorkers that was real high quality affordable housing where they could have full independence and dignity.”
The program is still available to all takers, but the state did not add additional funding in this year’s budget plan, citing its lack of traction.
[Politico] — Vince DiMiceli