Federal Agencies Take Action to Convert Commercial Property Into Affordable Housing

November 7, 2023
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At a time when office vacancies have reached a 30-year high, the White House recently announced new actions to support the conversion of high-vacancy commercial buildings into residential property.

This is one of the Biden-Harris administration's many strategies to expand the supply of affordable housing while addressing the crises of homelessness and climate change. The decades-in-the-making shortage of affordable homes is one of the biggest causes of homelessness in the United States, and the building sector creates nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. This announcement will create much-needed housing that is affordable, energy efficient, and near transit and good jobs.

The new actions (some of which are highlighted below) build upon the White House Housing Supply Action Plan, which is lowering housing costs, boosting housing supply, and promoting fair housing. For more information, read the full announcement from the White House.

Sparking Investment Through New Federal Funding and Repurposing Property

  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) released new guidance and a policy statement for states, localities, and developers on how the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing programs can be used to finance energy-efficient housing development near transportation, including conversion projects. 
  • DOT is releasing guidance that makes it easier for transit agencies to turn property no longer needed for transit into affordable housing development.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development released an updated notice on how the Community Development Block Grant fund can be used to boost housing supply, including the acquisition, rehabilitation, and conversion of commercial properties to residential uses and mixed-use development. 
  • The General Services Administration will expand its Good Neighbor Program to promote the sale of surplus federal properties that buyers could potentially redevelop for residential use.

Leveraging Federal Funding to Encourage Conversions

Working With States, Localities, and the Private Sector to Take Action

  • The White House encourages all state, local, tribal, and territorial entities to identify all available public tools and land disposition opportunities to facilitate conversions.
  • The National Association of Counties is expanding its focus to support counties' capacity to convert commercial properties into residential use, including by leveraging available federal programs and technical assistance. 
  • The American Planning Association, in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is expanding its work with the planning directors of the 30 largest U.S. cities to include new programs on commercial to residential conversions.

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