Adams pitches converting distressed hotels to supportive housing

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Eric Adams spoke in Sunset Park on September 20.
Photo by Ben Verde

Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams wants to convert distressed outer-borough hotels to supportive housing, as the hospitality industry still struggles to recover from the pandemic. 

At a Sept. 20 press conference held outside the shuttered Phoenix Hotel on 39th Street in Sunset Park, the borough president pitched a plan to transform thousands of city hotel rooms into studio apartments with supportive services. 

“The building here that we’re standing near is just a monumental example of bad planning,” Adams said. “But it’s also an opportunity.” 

Adams cited statistics claiming there are over 130,000 hotel rooms in over 700 hotels across the five boroughs, with the Hotel Association of New York City estimating that about 20 percent of hotels will not reopen due to the pandemic — leaving 25,000 hotel rooms vacant. 

“We need the city to invest city dollars to acquire and convert these units,” Adams said.”The numbers just make sense.” 

Supportive housing — a combination of affordable housing and supportive services in which tenants pay 30 percent of their income towards rent — is typically located in apartment buildings throughout residential communities. Many hotels in the outer boroughs are built with the intention of flipping them to homeless shelters to begin with, something the beep said he hoped to curb. Supportive housing units, on the other hand, often serve as the homes of people recently released from prison or people who were formerly homeless. 

“This is not converting them into homeless shelters,” he said. “That’s the problem we have now.”

“We say no to that, we must move away from that model and move into the right perspective of housing New Yorkers,” he added.

Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015 announced a plan to bring 15,000 new units of supportive housing over 15 years. Adams said Monday he would like to bring 25,000 units online as quickly as possible. 

Converting hotels to supportive housing is not without precedent. 

“We know this model works,” said Eric Rosenbaum CEO of the nonprofit Project Renewal, which converted a distressed hotel to housing for over 300 formerly homeless people in Times Square in the 1990s. 

“Many of our residents have been here from the beginning — that is housing stability,” he said. 

Adams said deregulating the zoning laws to make it easier for housing providers to convert hotels to housing tied directly into his desire to make New York a more business-friendly city. 

“We state we want to house people, we state we want to employ people, we state all of these things but then we have our agencies that prevent the actualization of what we’re stating,” he said. “That is how we’re hurting business in this city.”