How to Make Office Conversions Easier

To encourage more housing production, lawmakers could help make the costly and time-consuming adaptive reuse process easier and more cost-effective.

1 minute read

May 11, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential for converting offices, hotels, malls, and other commercial buildings to housing became a hot topic as occupancy rates in office buildings plummeted and, in many cases, have remained low as the pandemic wanes. With office vacancy rates at a 30-year high, developers and housing advocates saw the possibility in adaptive reuse to create a win-win situation amidst a deepening housing crisis.

As Erika Bolstad explains in Next City, the conversion of offices to housing is more complicated and expensive than it seems at first glance, but new legislation at the local, state, and federal levels could make the process easier and less costly. 

In Oregon, legislation proposed by Rep. Pam Marsh would “would require the state’s larger cities to allow commercial-to-residential conversions without mandating zoning changes or conditional use permits” and local governments to waive development fees. “In California, state Assemblymember Matt Haney, a Democrat from San Francisco, introduced legislation to bar local officials from delaying or denying commercial-to-residential projects.” Washington, D.C. developers can receive a 20-year tax abatement for commercial-to-housing projects.

Despite the efforts made by states and cities, office conversion remains “a fringe trend at best,” for now, but recent legislative changes could tip the balance in favor of more conversions.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023 in Next City

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