The affordable housing crisis has driven the D.C. Council to think outside of box and find ways to expand access to affordable housing with the city’s available resources.
At-large Council member Robert C. White Jr. introduced a bill last week during a Committee of the Whole meeting that would require the city to develop a task force to determine whether the conversion of office buildings into residential spaces with below-market rate rental units would help make affordable housing more available in the District.
The bill, known as the Office to Affordable Housing Task Force Act of 2017, calls for a task force of 11 members including affordable housing advocates, engineers, for-profit developers, city agencies and a low-income renter to determine whether the transition of existing vacant commercial space to affordable units would address the city’s shortage of such units.
“We know that we are still losing affordable housing at a frantic pace as more people are moving into the city and many old apartments are rehabbed and turned into expensive luxury housing that many residents simply cannot afford,” White said. “While we are investing millions of dollars into affordable housing strategies, the tools we have at our disposal right now are still falling short.”
He said that in the city, office buildings have a higher vacancy rate than residential buildings as many businesses move out of traditional office spaces and into smaller, collaborative work spaces.
According the bill, each member will be appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, subject to confirmation by the council, and will serve the task force without compensation except for expenses incurred while serving the task force.
The bill requires the task force report its determination on the viability of the transitions; a list of recommended legal, regulatory and zoning changes to carry out the conversations if deemed a viable solution to the affordable housing crisis; and an estimated cost.
“Office to apartment conversions are happening in D.C. and across the country, so we know this can work,” White said. “However, they are still rare because government has not actively removed the barriers in a proactive way.”
The bill was referred to the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization.