Several initiatives are underway at all levels of government to try and solve the dual problems of empty offices and insufficient housing. These include $400 million in incentives for adaptive residential reuse efforts in California’s 2022-24 budget, a hotel-to-housing conversion bill in New York, Philadelphia’s conversion policy, and local initiatives in San Francisco and Portland. Research into the efficacy of these policies is ongoing.
A new policy brief from Up For Growth analyzes office vacancies in Denver, Colorado, and asks why there are so few office-to-residential conversion projects while identifying some frequently occurring challenges with these projects. Denver’s downtown Central Business District has the potential for office-to-residential conversions in 6% of the total building area. Nearly 80% of respondents in this study agreed that policy action is needed to encourage more office-to-residential conversions.
The brief discusses the types of office buildings that do and do not work well for conversions to residential units. Turn-of-the-century industrial buildings found in many cities are prime candidates for office-to-residential conversions. Such buildings typically have large, open floorplans and tall ceilings, span a portion of a city block, and are four to five stories tall, which makes it easier to add floors, plumbing systems, hallways, and stairwells. Purpose-built office spaces do not have the same dimensions and open interiors as industrial buildings.