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Can Adaptive Reuse Projects Solve America’s Housing Crisis?

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Planning + Development

Can Adaptive Reuse Projects Solve America’s Housing Crisis?

In the midst of a widespread housing shortage, converting empty office buildings into rental units could boost supply in prime real estate markets, but builders say adaptive reuse projects are easier said than done


September 12, 2022
Interior of white, modern office building
Image: Stock.adobe.com

A nationwide housing shortage is sending home prices skyrocketing and leaving would-be buyers empty-handed, but according to Realtor.com, empty office buildings could offer a solution. The rise of remote work in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic left many office buildings vacant, and as more companies make the switch permanent, that prime real estate is being converted into apartments and condos. 

Over 8,000 apartment units were estimated to have been created from former office buildings last year, and about 13,000 more units are expected to be completed in 2022, but office conversions are costly projects, meaning that many units that have already been started could take years to be completed.

But here’s the thing: Converting an office building into an apartment or condo building takes more than just a snap of the fingers. These are often costly, difficult projects that typically take years and miles of bureaucratic red tape to complete.

“One of the problems with trying to [repurpose] these types of buildings as housing is these areas tend to have higher costs, a lot more regulatory barriers, and long timelines for getting projects done,” says Jason M. Ward, associate director for the Rand Center for Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles. “The areas where you might have the most opportunities are the areas that are the hardest to build in.”

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