As New York’s housing crisis rages, Mayor Eric Adams is proposing broad changes that would make it easier to build above commercial strips, near subway stations and elsewhere.
Mayor Eric Adams proposed on Thursday a major overhaul of New York City’s approach to development that his administration says could make way for as many as 100,000 additional homes in the coming years and ease the city’s severe housing crisis.
The proposed reforms, which Mr. Adams announced in remarks at Borough of Manhattan Community College, amount to his administration’s broadest and most ambitious attempt to tackle New York City’s housing shortage, which has been worsening for decades.
Rules limiting growth have long made it difficult for enough homes to be built to accommodate everyone who wants to live here, driving up the cost of living. That, in turn, has raised a threat to the city’s economy as businesses struggle to keep workers and families have poured out of the city.
The proposals could bring new housing development to nearly every corner of New York City and reflect a growing political consensus that the city must do everything it can to build.
In particular, the extreme shortage of lower-cost housing has come into sharp relief in the past year as more than 110,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since spring 2022, and more than half of them have landed in homeless shelters.
“We cannot have a city where the shelter system is how we are defined,” Mr. Adams said in his speech. “We must put people in housing.”
One proposal would allow the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall on top of laundromats, bodegas and other single-story commercial buildings in some neighborhoods outside Manhattan. That type of development has been effectively prevented by requirements that residential developments include yards or certain types of roofs and limits on building height. Another would undo similar rules that limit development around transit stations.
Mr. Adams is also proposing making it easier for owners of one- and two- family homes to turn basements, attics or backyard garages into apartments.
And he wants to eliminate mandates that certain new residential buildings include space for parking — a requirement that has made some housing construction impossible for developers.
Yet another proposal would let developers build larger buildings in Manhattan and other higher density areas if the buildings include affordable homes. The plan would ease conversions of offices to apartments by making more buildings eligible. It would also do away with zoning requirements that apartments be 680 square feet on average, essentially allowing for smaller apartment sizes.
Many housing advocates and experts had called on Mr. Adams to make good on a campaign promise to push more development across the city — particularly in wealthy neighborhoods, like the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that have been effective at resisting change but may have better access to transit, jobs and schools.
City officials said the proposals were designed to be broad but also not so aggressive that they provoked backlash: They must be approved by the City Council, and a vote could come as early as next fall.
Adrienne Adams, the Council speaker, called Mr. Adams’s proposals “encouraging and thoughtful” but did not give a full endorsement.
She said the Council looked forward to “continuing discussions with the administration and all stakeholders throughout this process to successfully advance the city’s housing needs.”
Over the next few months, the administration will seek to win the support of community boards and other neighborhood leaders, which may not be easy to get.
Local politicians and activists have regularly opposed development proposals, including a recent 231-unit project in Midwood and a more than 900-unit building in Harlem.
Mr. Adams acknowledged in his speech on Thursday the likelihood of resistance, saying “everyone is concerned about the impacts on parking, transit and traffic.”
“What we are proposing would benefit virtually every neighborhood and every New Yorker,” he said.
At the same time, the proposals will likely be welcomed by developers, because they address complaints about how frustrating it can be to navigate city rules and politics. But they could bring scrutiny to the mayor’s ties to the real estate industry, which have been a talking point of Mr. Adams’s critics in the past.
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, said the proposals emphasized the need for the mayor to improve a bus system that is already strained. He said many of New York City’s lower-cost neighborhoods were not near subway stations.
“If Mayor Adams wants to build a lot more housing, he’ll need to meet the needs of riders as well as real estate,” he said.
The proposals would not immediately help lower-income New Yorkers struggling to afford housing or the thousands of migrants who need homes.
In some cases, the state legislature would also likely need to pass bills to support the city’s goals, through programs like new tax incentives. That may not be easy. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s own ambitious housing proposals died in the state legislature this year amid pushback from suburban officials who resisted mandates to allow more housing to be built.
Still, if they succeed, city officials said they believed the changes to the rules governing development would be the most significant in half a century, and could make New York City a model for other cities nationwide.
Annemarie Gray, the executive director of Open New York, a nonprofit that advocates for building more housing, welcomed Mr. Adams’s proposals but said her group would “be paying close attention as the public process moves forward to ensure that the proposed changes are as ambitious as possible.”
Raju Mann, a former director of land use and planning for the City Council, said the proposals were overdue and were a big and potentially transformative for development in the city.
Mr. Mann, now an associate principal at the design and engineering firm Arup, said housing development was often bogged down by negotiations over individual projects or about particular neighborhoods.
“What’s unique here is that he’s saying it has to be a citywide thing in order to work,” he said.
But he said the state would also need to pass measures, like a tax incentive for affordable housing development, for the city’s plan to reach its potential. He said the mayor’s push would hopefully signal to legislators in Albany that the need is urgent.
“I think resetting the tone on these things is important,” he said.
The proposals come at a critical juncture for Mr. Adams, who has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle the city’s housing crisis as rents rose sharply in recent months and homelessness increased.
The median rent on new leases in Manhattan in August, according to the brokerage Douglas Elliman, was $4,400 — almost 26 percent above prepandemic levels.
The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog organization, found the rate of new housing construction had remained stagnant in recent decades, despite job and population growth. New York City has issued fewer building permits per resident over most of the past decade than Boston, Austin and San Francisco, according to the group.
Eviction filings are on the rise, particularly in affordable housing, as landlords seek to recoup unpaid rent as people continue to struggle with the economic challenges of the pandemic. Mr. Adams’s housing chief resigned earlier this year.
Mihir Zaveri covers housing in New York. More about Mihir Zaveri