Will office-to-residential conversions save America's downtowns?

After the pandemic, cities look to kill two birds with one stone

Filing cabinet apartment
(Image credit: Illustrated/Getty Images)

Can America's big cities solve two problems with one big idea? Downtowns have been decimated by the post-pandemic rise of hybrid work — and there's also a nationwide shortage of affordable housing. The solution? Turn all those empty offices into apartments. The Associated Press reports that in cities across the country, "office-to-housing conversions are being pursued as a potential lifeline for struggling downtown business districts."

But it's not quite as simple as flipping a switch. Modern office buildings don't have "the plumbing, exterior-facing windows and internal footprint of buildings intended for housing," Stateline reports, making those conversions pretty expensive. That is why cities and states are contemplating "tax incentives and streamlining zoning changes" to spur the renovations. "We have to move fast if we're going to stop our downtowns from crossing the tipping point into urban decay," says one California legislator.

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