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Can Office Buildings Help America’s Urban Housing Challenges?

December 3, 2014 | By

You may feel like you live at work, but someday you may actually call a former workplace home.

Architect Roger K. Lewis suggests turning vacant office buildings into residential spaces may be an answer to urban areas facing affordable housing challenges.

Converting quirky old buildings into condos is something of a fashionable trend in certain big cities. There are old schools, churches and religious buildings, and luxury condos in historic skyscrapers.

But those developments skew to the high end and are well out of reach for many middle income and young people who come to cities because of good job markets, but are challenged to find affordable housing. Lewis points to a 1970s-era office building in Alexandria, Va., that was recently redeveloped into two- and three-bedroom condos. The building fit the criteria Lewis lists for other commercial structures that may be ideal for a residential makeover:

  • The building’s location should be less than ideal for commercial purposes.
  • The local market for office space should be slow enough to encourage conversion.
  • A building’s size should fall under current zoning regulations for residential structures.
  • The building’s condition and form should make conversion possible.

These criteria pose some limits for which office buildings could be converted into residencies, and Lewis notes the economic challenges for both building owners and city governments. Still, with urban areas’ population growing (the U.S. Census says 2.3 million people moved to urban areas between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013), any cost-efficient increase in urban housing stock can be a welcome sight to city dwellers.

Read Lewis’ column in The Washington Post.

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