NEW ANALYSIS: New York City Construction Activity Near Historic Lows as Real Estate Industry Looks to Rebound

Proposed Square Footage & Multiple Dwelling Filings at Lows Unseen Since Great Recession

REBNY Calls on Congress to Support President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan and Local Officials to Act on Proposals to Boost Economy

NEW YORK -- A new analysis of City data by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) found that total square footage and new multiple dwelling filings for proposed construction in New York City are both at lows not seen in a decade, indicating significant obstacles to a full economic rebound in New York City. The proposed 5.4 million construction square feet in Q1 2021 is the lowest such figure since Q4 2010, while first quarter filings for new multiple dwelling buildings have reached their lowest point since Q3 2011.

Today’s report shows that the total number of new building filings for Q1 2021 was 407, marking a 25% decline from Q4 2020. While there is traditionally less activity in the first quarter (and first-quarter new building filings actually increased compared to Q1 2020), the underperformance of proposed square footage and multiple dwelling construction highlights the need for local and federal action to meet New York’s post-COVID economic and housing needs.

Following the latest report, REBNY called on Congress to pass President Biden’s historic infrastructure plan, which would put $2 trillion into the nation’s construction industry and has the overwhelming support of Americans.

“Congress must act swiftly to pass President Biden’s infrastructure plan, which will play a critical role in advancing a strong economic recovery for New York and creating thousands of good jobs. We applaud Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for embracing this much-needed plan and leading the fight for its passage,” said REBNY President James Whelan. “It is also more important than ever for City and State elected officials to step up and play their part in advancing policies and legislation that will kickstart the economic engine of the construction and development industries and address the City’s increasingly urgent housing needs.”

Leaders at REBNY, along with the Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC), Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA), and New York Building Congress, also continued to press public officials to support a package of reforms to address the industry’s serious challenges and kickstart the economy. All four groups agree that implementing these measures will play a significant role in encouraging construction activity, creating good jobs, producing much-needed housing and supporting a strong economic recovery for New York City.

“It’s clear that investment in large-scale infrastructure and public works projects is needed now more than ever to jumpstart the city’s economic recovery. Fortunately, there is a thoughtful, timely, and robust plan introduced by the Biden administration that invests in New York and in our working people that Congress must pass immediately,” said Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “From day one of the pandemic, our members went above and beyond to ensure that essential construction work never stopped, and these hardworking tradesmen and tradeswomen are now poised to not only rebuild our economy but build the infrastructure that will lead New York City into the future.”

“The best and fastest way for New York City to improve its economy is to build its way back to prosperity.” said Building Trades Employers Association President Lou Coletti. “Rebuilding public infrastructure, while creating incentives to rebuild the private real estate market, will increase tax revenue and improve New York’s social infrastructure.”

"The only way out of this crisis is to build, which is why it is so important we pass the American Jobs Plan as soon as possible," said Carlo A. Scissura, President and CEO of the New York Building Congress. "Building Congress members are ready to design and build the projects of the future, both here in New York City and across the nation. Building new schools, subway stations, affordable housing, offices and other infrastructure is key to our recovery and our long-term prosperity."  

As we work to build our way out of the pandemic to a more equitable New York, we need to protect and grow jobs that provide opportunities for New Yorkers and address the growing need for more housing throughout the City. All four organizations will continue to work on areas of common interest and advocate for smart policies help the industry and City’s recovery. These include:

  • Addressing Critical Needs for Jobs and Housing: With this latest report showing construction activity hitting its lowest points since the wake of the recession, we need to focus on a growing pipeline – not a stagnant one – that will create more housing opportunities while simultaneously creating good jobs. Since the end of the 2008 recession, New York City has added over 858,000 jobs, but only 125,000 newly constructed housing units – a rate of just 0.15 new homes per new job.

 

Even before the pandemic, the need for housing was imminent; now, the current economic crisis will need to rely on programs that encourage the production of below market-rate housing and collaboration between the public and private sectors. According to New York Building Congress’ “Construction Outlook Update: Workforce Snapshot 2021,” 82.7% percent of the City’s construction industry workers were employed in the private sector. The private sector’s involvement in housing production, utilizing incentive programs and property tax benefits to address the immense construction costs, can reignite the construction pipeline, thus creating good jobs and affordable housing in steps critical to the City’s overall recovery.

  • Opposing the Proposed After-Hours Variances (AHV) Changes: Not only is it essential we find ways to keep the pipeline from drying up completely, but we also need to protect the current jobs within the construction industry. New York City Council’s proposed legislation (Intro 1737) to amend aspects of the AHV process – with the goal to improve safety and quality of life – would delay projects, lengthen their time to completion and add cost that would jeopardize jobs. Instead, New York needs policies that spur economic development and job growth. Read REBNY’s testimony on the bill here.

 

Download REBNY’s Q1 New Building Construction Pipeline Report here.

For more information about REBNY research reports, visit go.rebny.com/Reports.

ABOUT THE REAL ESTATE BOARD OF NEW YORK

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association. Founded in 1896, REBNY represents commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, and salespeople; banks, financial service companies, utilities, attorneys, architects, and contractors; corporations, co-partnerships, and individuals professionally interested in New York City real estate.

REBNY conducts research on various civic matters including tax policy, city planning, and zoning, rental conditions, land use policy, building codes, and other city, state, and federal legislation. REBNY regularly publishes market data, policy reports, and broker surveys. In addition, REBNY provides for its members: informational, technical, and technological resources; networking and charitable service opportunities; qualifying and continuing education courses; professional education programs, seminars, and designations; career-changing awards; legal advice; and a wide range of additional member benefits. For more information, please visit www.REBNY.com.

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