Biden-Harris Admin Aims for Affordable Housing via Commercial Conversions



The Biden-Harris Administration is taking new steps to convert high-vacancy commercial buildings to residential use with the goals of increasing housing availability and reducing climate pollution. Measures include offering financing and technical assistance, and selling federal properties for potential housing development. They aim to make housing more affordable, energy-efficient, and accessible, particularly near transit and job opportunities, and to cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which account for nearly 30% of the total.

Zero Emission Housing Conversions & Transit-Oriented Development

The Biden-Harris administration is taking action to convert high-vacancy commercial buildings into residential units. This will include new financing, technical support, and sales of federal properties. These measures are geared towards creating affordable, energy-efficient housing close to transit and employment opportunities. This will also reduce carbon emissions, a significant amount of which are generated by the building sector.

Office and commercial vacancies are affecting both urban and rural main streets. A recent blog post by the Council of Economic Advisers notes that office vacancies have reached a 30-year high nationwide. This puts pressure on commercial real estate and local economies. Meanwhile, the country continues to wrestle with a shortage of affordable housing, which pushes up rental costs. Communities are exploring new methods to reduce emissions, particularly from existing infrastructure and transportation.

New Federal Funding and Repurposing Property

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is providing new guidelines on using over $35 billion in funding for transit-oriented development projects. This is in addition to the DOT releasing a policy statement on pursuing transportation projects that aim to increase affordable housing and decrease emissions.

HUD is issuing an updated notice on how the Community Development Block Grant fund can be used to stimulate housing supply. This includes the conversion of commercial properties into residential and mixed-use development. The General Services Administration (GSA) is expanding its Good Neighbor Program to promote the sale of surplus federal properties for potential residential redevelopment.

Leveraging Federal Funding for Conversions

The White House is releasing a guidebook with over 20 federal programs to support conversions. These include loans, grants, and tax incentives. The DOE has launched a toolkit that offers guidance on achieving zero emissions for commercial to residential conversions.

Collaboration with States, Localities, and the Private Sector

Many states and localities have taken measures to tackle high commercial and office building vacancies in their downtowns. Recent research from HUD reveals that developers typically use a mix of federal, state, and local resources for conversion projects. The White House is urging all entities to identify public tools and land disposition opportunities to facilitate conversions.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is bolstering its efforts to support county capacity to convert commercial properties into residential use, leveraging available federal programs and technical assistance initiatives. The American Planning Association, in partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is expanding its existing programs on commercial to residential conversions.

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