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November 12-15, 2024
Pennsylvania Convention CenterPhiladelphia, PA

Greenbuild Blog

Converting Offices to Residences in Washington, D.C.: Lessons Learned & Resources for the Future

By Jennifer Easton

August 21, 2023

There’s no doubt that Washington, D.C. and cities around the country and world experienced unprecedented changes during and after the global pandemic. Demand for commercial office space has decreased as many workplaces have shifted to remote or hybrid culture: Cushman & Wakefield’s Q2 2023 Office MarketBeat found that 20% of office spaces in Washington are currently empty, a percentage that’s mirrored across the United States. 

A now established trend that presents significant promise to address the housing shortage in Washington is converting empty office buildings to residential spaces. In fact, Washington led the charge on these conversions between 2020 and 2021, with the most office-to-rental conversions in the country, according to real estate analysis group Yardi Matrix. 

A continued commitment to transitioning commercial office space will help support one of the six big picture goals listed in Mayor Bowser’s Comeback Plan for Washington, unveiled in January 2023: adding seven million square feet of residential units in Downtown.

Greenbuild in Washington: A timely event to discuss the future of office conversions

With this impressive progress comes a deeper understanding of the challenges inherent to the process of converting offices into residences in Washington, including costs, regulatory issues, zoning and building code barriers. This topic is the focus of Greenbuild 2023 session DC’s Post Pandemic Urban Evolution: A Focus on Office to Residential Conversions, featuring local leaders in commercial real estate, urban planning and environment with the hands-on experience of carrying out office-to-apartment conversions.

Panelists in this session will also discuss how retrofitting commercial office spaces into housing can increase building energy efficiency via compliance with the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), established in 2018 via the Clean Energy DC (CEDC) Act. There’s also a prime opportunity to adapt commercial buildings for the affordable housing market specifically, a critical need in the Washington area. Greenbuild session DC's BEPS Affordable Housing Retrofit Accelerator will provide an overview of the resources available for affordable housing projects striving to meet the requirements of BEPS.

Journalist and author Alan Ehrenhalt called the type of transformation that Washington is experiencing an “urban evolution,” where the hallmark of cities is shifting more significantly from office high rises to residential buildings. 

With enormous potential to advance sustainability and equitable housing solutions through health-focused, green retrofits, office-to-rental conversions can act as a win-win for people and the planet, while also addressing growing concerns over commercial building vacancies and their negative impacts on the economy.  

There’s no better place this fall than Greenbuild to learn about this evolution, on the ground in one of the cities that’s leading the charge.