As many workers have shifted to remote or hybrid work schedules, empty office buildings in Boston have led to less foot traffic in once vibrant downtown areas. In order to help curb the high vacancy rates in downtown office buildings and also encourage housing development, Boston is implementing a program to offer tax incentives for developers looking to convert offices into residential space. Through this program, office buildings downtown would be awarded lower property tax rates; in return, they would need to begin the conversion right away.
While this may be a good solution for underutilized office space, developers face several challenges. One main challenge is the shape of the building – rectangular buildings with long window lines are more promising, since natural light is crucial for residential units. Office buildings that are more square in shape are more challenging, since a greater proportion of the floor space is interior space.
Additionally, developers need to evaluate electrical, heating, ventilation, AC and plumbing systems. While office building systems may be stacked in an efficient manner for an office use (e.g. bathrooms on each floor are typically one over the other), it can be very costly to reconfigure all of these systems for residential use (e.g. running all new water and sewer lines for bathrooms and kitchens for each of the units).
Overall, there is a lot to consider for developers. While office to residential conversion is certainly possible in Boston, it is expensive. We are hopeful and optimistic that developers will find innovative ways to utilize this new program.
(Blog collaborated on by Eric Shabshelowitz and one of our Summer interns, Matty Reardon)