Office-to-Residential Conversions Considered as Workers Go Remote

Reduced demand for office space after coronavirus could lead New York landlords to consider the conversion of offices to residential spaces.

April 14, 2020, 9:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


Henning Klokkeråsen / Flickr

Many office spaces in New York sit empty as occupants work from home in light of social distancing requirements. If the trend continues after shelter-in-place orders are lifted, office landlords could consider converting their commercial assets into residential spaces. 

"Some real estate pros maintain that companies and employees will be happier than ever to return to their offices after the crisis subsides, while others are predicting a more permanent decline in demand for office space. And they already have a solution in mind for how commercial landlords could handle this: turn their offices into residential buildings to help alleviate New York’s housing crisis," writes Eddie Small.

While office-to-residential conversions could generally increase the amount of housing in large cities, it's not a given that these options would be affordable. Profit-driven landlords would respond to economic incentives to build luxury condos rather than apartments. 

If demand for office space is decreased, says Urban Institute senior fellow Brett Theodos, it's more likely to be a symptom of economic hardship than of an increased preference for remote workspaces. Center for an Urban Future executive director Jonathan Bowles predicts that the retail sector, which was struggling even before the pandemic, is more likely to make lasting adjustments after the pandemic subsides.

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