DENVER – Up for Growth, an organization that studies the housing shortage and affordability crisis through data-driven research, recently published an analysis of Denver’s Central Business District (CBD) that examines the potential of converting office space to residential housing.
“One of the reasons we picked the Central Business District is because Denver is an area that has experienced some significant population growth and some significant GDP growth. So, it might be an area in the city that is more likely to be interested in policies like this,” Up for Growth Senior Policy Analyst Anjali Kolachalam said. “The big takeaway is that currently, about 6% of the office buildings or 1.5 million square feet of the leasable area could be converted into [residential space].”
But Kolachalam said converting office buildings into homes isn’t easy.
“If you want to build residential buildings, you need access to natural light. A lot of the ways that developers do that in office buildings is to kind of build an atrium or a tunnel in the middle to create natural light. But the taller the building, the more problems exist,” Kolachalam said.
The analysis found that some office buildings would also need to gut and reroute plumbing, HVAC systems, and bathrooms.
Kolachalam said another issue is that most office building vacancies are spread out across several different buildings.
“They aren’t necessarily spread evenly throughout these buildings throughout the city. When you're thinking about vacancy rates, like a building that's 25% vacant, that's next to a building that's 50% vacant, that's next to a building that's 75% vacant, that's a lot of square feet, but it’s spread out,” Kolachalam said.
But Kolachalam said despite the challenges, converting office space to homes is still worth a try.
“The Denver metro is about 62,000 homes or housing units short of what it needs,” Kolachalam said. “This is an issue that has brought interest in support and can be a very important tool in the tool belt.”
Kolachalam said while office space is a solution, it’s just one of many needed to make sure everyone has a place to live.