Boise officials are considering buying a downtown office building and converting it into affordable housing. Jared Brey reports on the city’s plan to create below-market rental housing by employing adaptive reuse to convert former office and commercial buildings to apartments.
Leon Letson, manager for the city’s Grow Our Housing program, emphasized that the city is still working on the first acquisition and considering a variety of options for the future, including vacant land and existing buildings, to create more housing at less cost than new construction. The city would purchase the building for its affordable housing land trust and partner with a developer for the conversion. According to Letson, Boise’s vacant offices are often ideally situated and provide a unique opportunity. “Oftentimes these office buildings are located in areas that we would encourage housing — neighborhood centers in close proximity to transit.”
With offices emptied by the pandemic and more companies announcing plans to shift to work-from-home permanently, adaptive reuse can create a new life for these properties and provide much-needed housing. However, conversions can be costly, with a 2019 Office-to-Affordable-Housing Task Force in Washington, D.C. concluding that “office-to-residential conversions are ‘not the most effective method of addressing the District’s most pressing housing needs.'”
Boise, meanwhile, hopes the project will be the first of many successes and plans “to acquire two or three more properties and bring 200 or so units into the land trust in the next year or so.”