Addressing Toronto’s housing crisis by converting offices into rentals

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Toronto City Councillor Brad Bradford's proposal to convert underused office buildings into residential housing could boost housing supply in the city – but it's not without its challenges.

The pandemic has reshaped the way we work, with many employees now working from home. Companies are downsizing their office spaces as a result, leaving a surplus of vacant buildings. According to real estate firm CBRE, downtown Toronto’s office vacancy rate is at an all-time high of 15.8%.

Bradford’s idea addresses the simultaneous trends of rising office vacancies and a growing demand for rental housing. Toronto alone boasts 923 office buildings that are suitable for conversion, according to commercial real estate company Avison Young, with the potential to bring hundreds or thousands of affordable rental units online.

However, office-to-residential conversions are not as straightforward as they may seem. To make these buildings into suitable homes, they need a complete transformation, involving the removal of interior walls, installation of new electrical wiring and plumbing, and ensuring every unit has access to windows. Some developers argue that demolishing the buildings and starting from scratch would be more time- and cost-effective.

With the right backing, this innovative solution could help mitigate Toronto's housing crisis, bring empty offices back into use, and revitalize downtown areas.

But to make these conversions viable, they need massive investment. Capital grants, tax exemptions, and low-interest loans from the government could all help.

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