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Can empty offices be a solution to the housing crisis?

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“The 360” gives you a different perspective on the day’s top stories and debates.

what’s happening

Two and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to abruptly shift to remote work, cities are facing the reality that many workers will likely never return to the office. increase.

Daily infection and death rates are a fraction of the worst days of the pandemic, Offices in the 10 largest US cities are only about half full before the virus arrived.

This is not just a problem for companies that want their employees to work directly. A significant drop in the daily commuters flooding the central business district means restaurants and other businesses have dramatically reduced their potential customer base. Declining demand for offices can also lead to significant declines in commercial real estate values. According to one study, this means less property tax revenue for cities.

Instead of leaving these offices empty forever, It’s a chronic housing shortage problem with skyrocketing costs of living in many major cities.

the concept of Nothing new, but so many empty offices and stores across the United States have led some lawmakers to believe that a major conversion campaign could solve the nation’s housing crisis. One such movement occurred in California. Designed to facilitate residential development in underutilized office and commercial properties.

why the debate

At first glance, the idea of ​​turning an empty office into a residence seems like a simple win-win. Optimists say that not only will millions of housing units be added to areas where people want to live, but these new residents will be replaced by downtown areas that have languished without a steady flow of daily commuters. Others say it can help local governments spur change with financial incentives and more permissive legislation for projects aimed at turning over empty buildings. I claim that I can.

But skeptics say converting commercial space to residential is far more difficult and costly than many think. One of the biggest problems, according to them, is that the layout of many modern office buildings does not adequately serve as a living space. Specifically, sunlight doesn’t reach the center of the vast floor plans of many buildings, making it difficult, and potentially even illegal, to convert them into living spaces. They say there aren’t enough convertible buildings to make a real difference to the housing stock in this country.

Another big hurdle is that repurposing homes may not make economic sense for many developers. Some believe that the best bet is to hope that work within offices will pick up in the next few years, while others find it more profitable to use the space for other purposes, such as warehouses or scientific laboratories. Some people judge it to be high.


No office should be empty when so many people need a place to live

“As getting ahead of the looming real estate problem seems to have taken on a new urgency, cities like New York may find some of the collateral damage from COVID-19 permanent if it’s not too late. , you may decide you need a new solution.. Instead of waiting for businesses to come back to Midtown, let’s do something useful in the previously bustling corporate space.” — SE Cup ,

Most offices are not suitable for housing

“Office buildings built since the 1950s simply lack these qualities. No. Windows usually don’t open and need to be replaced to meet housing needs.In short they are not a bargain to convert and in most cases they are not.Simple ones already It’s done.” — Alan Ehrenhardt

Residential conversion can turn downtown into a real neighborhood again

“Today’s increase in remote work will not destroy our downtowns, but it will force change again. allows them to be even better than they were before.” — Richard Florida,

Legislators willing to dramatically reform building codes

“For this to work properly, the city will need to revisit its cumbersome and restrictive zoning ordinances, which can make repurposing office space impossible or costly. , can also be a logistical headache.” — Edit,

Residential space is not as profitable as other potential options

“Importantly, apartments are much cheaper to rent, making moving less economically attractive for building owners.” — Lani Mora

Office conversion will have only a small impact on the housing crisis

“It’s a compelling illusion, but the reality can be very different. Developers, planners, architects, and investors should know that such transformations are not impossible, but rather dramatic.” I warn you that it is likely to be a low-key event.” — Adam Brinklow

The housing crisis is so severe that all possible solutions must be aggressively pursued

“Empty shopping malls and other unused commercial spaces should be looked for first. They already sit on vast tracts of urban infrastructure. Retail stores, dying malls, all options for building new units need to be explored.” — Edit,

Office refurbishment is too expensive to be done in all but the most expensive cities

“If you’re used to worrying about urban shortages of affordable housing, this may seem like a problem with an easy solution. Turn empty commercial buildings into much-needed housing units.” This is more likely to happen in some cases, especially in older buildings with a good footprint for conversions, but conversions are expensive, you could see it in New York or San Francisco is expensive, but the rent doesn’t always justify the cost outside of the hottest markets.” — Megan McArdle

Conversions, if any, do not lead to more affordable housing

“Despite the shortage of affordable housing, most office conversions are built as market-priced apartments for professional-grade millennials, allowing developers to function economically. — Will Parker

This plan will only work if it centers around creating affordable housing

“Developers have been turning commercial spaces into housing for decades. Old factories, factories and hospitals are turning into residential lofts and apartments. But now, with remote work emptying downtown offices and a continuing shortage of affordable housing in metropolitan areas, cities have a chance to address both issues simultaneously. There is.”— Miles Howard

Office swapping isn’t an immediate fix, but it could be a game changer in the long run

“Waying goodbye to busy office districts and 9-to-5 downtowns is a process that has probably been decades in the making. Some.” — Kate Marino

Builders and residents need to be more willing to accept imperfect home designs

“Obviously, having lots of windowless bedrooms isn’t ideal, but it’s better than filling the central business district with half-empty office buildings while rents and homelessness continue to rise. — Matthew Iglesias

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Photo Illustration: Yahoo News Photo: Getty Images

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