Soon after Covid devastated the New York hotel industry in the spring of 2020, politicians, developers and homeless services groups arrived at a rare consensus: This was a once-in-a-generation chance to convert struggling hotels into affordable housing.
In California, which faced a similar situation during the pandemic, government agencies have helped to convert 120 sites, most of them hotels, into 5,911 housing units, the majority permanent housing for the homeless and other low-income renters, according to an April report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
The grand total of hotels converted into permanent affordable housing in New York City during the pandemic? Zero.
“The opportunity is kind of slipping away,” said Eric Rosenbaum, the president and chief executive of Project Renewal, a New York-based homeless services group that has tried to facilitate hotel conversions.
memories of flophouses in the 1970s and ’80s, although a 2008 study of 123 supportive housing developments in New York by the Furman Center at New York University found no evidence that they negatively affected nearby property values. And supporters say that a different approach to the S.R.O. model could help alleviate the affordable housing crisis at a pivotal moment, when these conversions can still be done at scale.
The window of opportunity has not closed completely. Bargains may be disappearing, but the hotel industry hasn’t yet recovered, and more projects could become feasible for nonprofit developers with the right mix of regulatory relief and funding. Promised support from Mayor-elect Eric Adams could also jump-start several projects, although much of that progress will depend on how — and when — the city and state act.
when an annual estimate was done in 2020, the latest year data were available, compared with about 53,000 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And those numbers are likely an undercount, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group.