The sudden growth in telecommuting brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the commercial real estate industry as companies rethink their need for physical office space and workers embrace the benefits of the new work-from-home lifestyle. The change is also having impacts on small towns that are simultaneously losing some major employers while gaining a new influx of newly ‘free’ workers untethered from offices in big cities.
As the need to stay close to the work opportunities and amenities of major urban centers dissipates, more Americans are seeking out small, amenity-rich towns that offer high quality of life at low cost. These so-called “Zoom towns” offer lower taxes and relatively affordable real estate for former urban dwellers, but the double-edged “Zoom boom” is also driving up housing costs and threatening to drive out older residents in places with limited housing stock. At the same time, commercial landlords and city officials struggle to find uses for formerly occupied office buildings. One possible solution, writes Jonathan Thompson for High Country News, is converting unused offices into affordable housing to alleviate the crunch facing many of the most desirable rural communities now seeing an explosive growth in demand.