How Converting N.Y.C. Office Buildings to Homes Can Help the Environment

Arup, a global sustainable-development firm, explored in a report released Wednesday the amount of pollution that could be eliminated if New York City made more office buildings eligible for residential conversions.

The report found that if about 220 office buildings were converted to housing, they could produce 54 percent less carbon emissions by 2050. That would be a decrease of up to 11 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Over half of the carbon savings would come from simply reusing the buildings, the report said.

“Ninety percent of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built, so if we can productively put them to use, it’s a win for the city and for the environment,” said Dan Garodnick, the director of the Department of City Planning.

Other emissions cuts would come from new, more energy-efficient building facades with operable windows, which residents must have. And about half could come from upgrades recommended by the city, like electric HVAC systems, as it pushes for decarbonization, said Tess McNamara, the senior sustainability consultant at Arup who led the study.

New York City is faced with a housing crisis, while many commercial buildings continue to struggle with soaring vacancy rates.

This fall, in a move to create more housing, Mayor Eric Adams proposed changing the city’s zoning code to allow for more commercial spaces to be converted to residential.

And on Jan. 1, Local Law 97, which sets limits for emissions of greenhouse gases from large buildings in the city, will go into effect, with the goal of zero emissions by 2050. But getting to that goal will require expensive upfront costs, argue many property owners. They can also choose

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