10/25/23 - Home Making

We're fast approaching the bitter end of this blog, but one of the remaining things I want to cover is the rules for residential conversions of existing buildings. 

While the new code has made solid strides in allowing the reuse of existing commercial buildings throughout the city for small scale commercial uses, the same cannot be said for converting existing buildings to residences. In addition to maintaining the sad tropes around unit overcrowding (as though units could crowd - now, as in the era of public housing, this issue is too many people for not enough units, and a thing that limiting the number of units in the market only exacerbates), the new code also keeps the overly large minimum unit sizes for conversion. It's also one of the few areas of the code that have maintained minimum lot sizes, though at smaller numbers than the current code, for no clear reason other than to discourage conversions. 

This is one of the places where public opinion and the zoning code are both very far from reality. Houses are no longer being cut in half to make duplexes, because building code makes that very challenging to do. What's actually on the table are conversions like this. But if you look into that project, you'll see it took multiple hearings and dealing with neighbors who would prefer a vacant building in their neighborhood to more apartments. This isn't the way forward, and the new code should be better than this. Especially when it still offers carte blanche to people who want to combine units together. This puts us in the same, albeit at a smaller scale, situation as NYC. And we wonder why 2,000 units were built in the last decade in the city, but we only added 654 residents. I can assure you the new units aren't over 50% vacant. 

The Rochester 2034 Plan advocates strongly for allowing more housing diversity, and the Environmental Impact Statement that accompanies the ZAP code clearly acknowledges that a majority of households in Rochester are now a single person. And yet somehow we continue to hamstring offering a diverse set of potentially affordable options to these households. The minimum unit sizes and parking requirements for residential conversion have to go. Building code will take care of the former, and the market the latter. 

Let's do better.