Could Vancouver convert empty office towers into housing?

Click to play video: 'Office towers as housing solution?'
Office towers as housing solution?
It's being done in other metropolises to help deal with the housing crisis and some are saying it should be considered here in Vancouver. As Cassidy Mosconi reports, the province is open to the idea of converting downtown empty office space into apartments. – Nov 19, 2023

As Vancouver continues to experience a housing crisis, both Vancouver and the province said converting empty office towers into housing is possible.

“We are certainly open to looking at that for both Victoria and Vancouver… we do know that we do have some of the lowest vacancy rates when it comes to commercial space across the country,” B.C.’s Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said.

“I know in Calgary and Edmonton, they are in the 20 per cent range so it really makes sense there but we are open to the idea of some of those commercial spaces moving into housing but I am not sure how much of a demand there is at this stage.”

Kahlon also said with office space vacancy among the lowest in Canada, it might be better to protect those commercial spaces if the economy picks up.

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“But we are not opposed to the idea if any commercial land owners that want to switch to housing, (we will) find ways to support them.”

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According to a report done by Colliers Canada, a commercial real estate services firm, Vancouver is currently sitting at an 8.6 per cent vacancy rate which is a six-year high for the city. Victoria has a 6.5 per cent total office vacancy rate.

The City of Vancouver offered a statement when asked about the possibility of creating new housing in office spaces.

“If the building is located in a zone where residential use is already permitted, or included in the comprehensive development district (CD-1) bylaw created when the site was rezoned, then a rezoning is not needed and the owner can proceed to the development permit process,” the spokesperson said in an email. “If the existing development bylaws do not permit residential uses, but the area supports residential uses, then a new rezoning is required.”

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If residential use is not permitted in the area then a conversion “may not be possible.”

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