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Evidence Matters: Office To Residential Conversions


Fall 2023

Editor’s Note

The United States is facing a severe lack of housing stock, and this shortage is exacerbating the nation’s lack of affordable housing. Those affected are not only people who want to live close to employment centers in central business districts in urban areas but also renters and buyers nationwide.

Since the outset of the pandemic, utilization of downtown office space has heavily decreased in cities across the U.S. This edition of Evidence Matters examines the advantages and drivers of adaptive reuse of office buildings and office-to-residential conversion. This issue also focuses on existing regulatory, logistical, and financial barriers to conversion when attempting to revive American cities after office space utilization decreased during and after the pandemic.

The lead article, "Office to Residential Conversions," highlights the interest in and opportunities associated with office building vacancies, paying particular attention to how these vacancies are affecting the economic landscape of many U.S. cities. Although this article outlines the challenges of conversion, it also points out the financial incentives and architectural innovations that are boosting the feasibility of adaptive reuse.

This issue’s In Practice article, "Cities Pursue Conversion Initiatives," highlights the LaSalle Reimagined initiative and the work to convert 5 historic office buildings into more than 1,600 mixed-income housing units. The article also discusses the Pittsburgh Downtown Conversion Program, which offers loans to developers who renovate vacant Class B and C office buildings and reserve a portion of the units for affordable housing. The article then focuses on Portland, Oregon, which has passed ordinances to facilitate conversions by waiving onerous regulatory barriers without sacrificing building safety.

Specific to this issue of Evidence Matters is a special In Practice article, "Office Buildings Repurposed as Affordable Housing," that highlights Kansas City’s tax abatement program and Missouri’s historic tax credit program to support converting empty office buildings to affordable housing. The article also discusses the Lanahan Building in Baltimore, which has employed innovative methods to overcome logistical and architectural barriers to conversion that can serve as a blueprint for similarly situated projects nationwide.

We hope that the articles in this issue of Evidence Matters will offer readers perspective and insight as to how we can maintain and revitalize our nation’s urban cores. We welcome feedback at

   — Parker A. Lester, Social Science Analyst, Office of Policy Development and Research