Converting underused office buildings into housing is one way cities across Canada are dealing with a housing shortage, high residential rent and office vacancy rates (national rate is 17%). Calgary is onto a third conversion. Halifax has followed suit. Toronto, London and Yellowknife are in conversion planning stages.
Conversions are challenging. Offices built in the 1970s and after are typically good. Architects use a conversion assessment calculator and buildings must score 80 to 100 or higher to be recommended for a conversion. Only 25% of assessed buildings make the cut. It’s costly (up to $400 per square foot). And it comes down to: location; age; if the floor plan lends itself to apartment or condo style units; the size and number of windows; electrical, mechanical and plumbing needs; elevators; parking; facade; and government support.
Altus Group VP, Raymond Wong says “government support will be critical to many conversion projects. [We] need that type of partnership, as well as zoning changes, for this to work….conversions alone are not going to solve the problem of excess office inventory. It’s going to take a long time.” Total demolition and building new structures might be more feasible.