Be the broker: Which vacant office spaces would you like to see become affordable housing?

Tell us which empty building could be used differently.

A landscape image with a forested area in the foreground, city buildings, and hills and mountains in the distance under an overcast sky.

There is a beautiful view of downtown Portland from the Pittock Mansion.

Photo by PDXtoday

Have you noticed some of the empty office space around town? Office vacancies were at 16.6% as of September 2023. Compare those numbers to the national office vacancy rate, which was 17.8% as of September 2023. One possible use for vacant offices? Affordable housing.

Recently, the White House released a new plan to convert commercial buildings into residential housing — affordable housing in particular. Resources will be made available from 20+ programs across multiple agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We’re talking below-market loans, grants, and tax credits... all available to help take advantage of preexisting buildings to make more affordable housing.

How Portland is responding

In March, the Portland City Council approved incentives aimed at easing the cost of converting office spaces into housing units by lowering seismic retrofit standards and exempting developers from paying system development charges. Also important to note is that downtown Portland doesn’t require zoning changes for converting offices into apartments.

Developers are currently weighing the costs and benefits of converting office spaces and city leaders have estimated that less than 20 buildings in Portland are financially and structurally ready to be candidates. David Kuhnhausen, permitting manager for the Bureau of Development Services, said the owners or developers of nine buildings had made official inquiries as of mid-November.

“At this time, none of those projects have moved into the phase of technical reviews of a permit application occurring. We continue to offer an array of meetings with bureau staff for anyone interested in converting underutilized office space to residential use,” said Kuhnhausen.

Which vacant spaces would you like to see converted?

Have you passed an empty office building that would be a sweet apartment? How about some empty warehouses near public transportation that would make for a quick commute?

Tell us which spaces you’d like to see remade into housing, and we may feature your picks in an upcoming newsletter.