There’s a fair amount of federal office space going unused in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this year, for instance, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report focused on the 21.5 million square feet of usable office space—conference rooms, team rooms and offices—in the headquarters of 24 government agencies. According to the GAO analysis, 17 of those agencies’ buildings were at 25% capacity or less during the first three months of 2023.
Such numbers are not lost on lawmakers in the nation’s capital.
This summer, for example, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure “lamented that Congress has been cutting checks to [the General Services Administration] to maintain buildings that may be underutilized, outdated or [not functional],” Federal Times’ Molly Weisner wrote in mid-July, on the heels of the aforementioned GAO report.
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 emptied out offices everywhere, obviously. Three-plus years later, many government agencies have brought workers back to the office on a more frequent basis (and not without resistance). But, as the recent GAO report suggests, many government offices are still far from capacity, and don’t figure to be filled anytime soon.
The Biden administration recently announced a plan designed to encourage states and cities to convert these empty office buildings (and corporate spaces as well) into housing units, with billions of dollars available to help spur such transitions, according to a White House statement outlining the multi-agency effort.
The new initiative includes the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation (DOT), along with the GSA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with these and other agencies providing resources designed to “encourage zero emissions conversions and transit-oriented development that increase housing supply and cut climate pollution,” according to the White House.
For example, the Department of Transportation is releasing new guidance to states, localities and developers on how the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) programs can be used to finance housing development near transportation, including conversion projects. DOT also released a policy statement with principles for pursuing transportation projects with the dual goals of increasing affordable housing supply and decreasing emissions.
“By making low-cost financing available for conversions and housing projects near public transportation,” the White House said, “this guidance and policy statement will increase housing supply, while encouraging state and local governments to improve their zoning, land use and transit-oriented development policies.”
Meanwhile, GSA will expand on its Good Neighbor Program to promote the sale of surplus federal properties that buyers could potentially redevelop for residential use, according to the White House, which noted that GSA will work with OMB to identify current and upcoming sale opportunities, maintain a public list of current opportunities and affirmatively market resources available to support housing development in all targeted materials for applicable properties.
These actions build upon initiatives in the White House Housing Supply Action Plan, the 2022 initiative launched to decrease housing costs, promote fair housing and ultimately help close the housing supply gap in five years, according to the administration. Such steps figure to create housing that is affordable and energy-efficient, near transit and good jobs, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the White House.
“Office and commercial vacancies across the country are affecting urban downtowns and rural main streets,” said the administration, citing recent data that finds office vacancies reaching a 30-year high across the country. “At the same time, the country has struggled for decades with a shortage of affordable housing units, which is driving up rental costs, and communities are seeking new ways to cut emissions, especially from existing buildings and transportation.”
13 November 2023
HR News Article