Converting Factories Into Homes – The New York Times

As the pandemic stretches on, office buildings sit empty as their tenants work from home, and brick and-mortar stores continue to lose ground to online shopping. Witness the bankruptcies of major retail giants J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus, and the pile of Amazon deliveries in your building lobby, as clear evidence.

Some developers are already responding to these changes by converting nonresidential spaces for other uses, including as residences. But this idea isn’t new — just look at Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, once home to manufacturing and now among the city’s most expensive residential areas, known for lofts converted from factory floors.

A recent study by RENTCafé examined the conversion of commercial and institutional spaces to homes over the past seven decades, and found that they’ve never been more prevalent, with the 2010s posting a record number of such conversions.

The study, which informs this week’s chart, reports that across the U.S. during the 2010s, 96,544 units were created in 778 buildings that were formerly schools, factories, offices or other nonresidential spaces. (The study only considered buildings with 50 or more units.) In the 2000s, 63,989 units in 467 buildings were converted. Back in the 1950s, just 2,002 units in 14 buildings across the country were converted. Not surprisingly, New York topped the list for most residential units, although several cities converted more buildings.

Factories have been the most popular conversion targets, followed by hotels, office buildings, schools and warehouses. An encouraging finding: 42 percent of units created in those repurposed spaces were aimed at middle-income renters, and 23 percent included units within the reach of low-income renters.

This week’s chart shows the cities in which the greatest number of residential units were created from other kinds of buildings in the 2010s, as well the type of building most commonly converted.

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the catastrophe of converting office blocks to homes

“I can’t work” says Katya. One reason she can’t work is that it takes her 40 minutes to walk to the nearest available school from her housing block in Harlow, Essex, and 40 minutes back, which means that she spends the best part of three hours every day ferrying her young children to and fro. Shops are also a long walk away, apart from a petrol station where you can buy milk and bread for above-average prices. She can’t afford broadband or the devices that access it. “We are really isolated.”

Her flat is small – “if you open the door you hit the bed” – freezing in winter, boiling in summer, and prone to mould. Being on the ground floor, she doesn’t dare open her windows at night. There have been drug dealing and knife fights in her block. There is “always shouting and arguing”, she says. “The children are frightened.”

Her neighbours have similar experiences. Their block is privately owned, but they have been placed there by local authorities desperate to find anywhere to house them. Some have lived there for two or more years, transplanted from London boroughs: it might take two or more hours, and cost £50 or more to return to see friends and family. They have minimal storage space. Bicycles jam the narrow corridors, which would be a hazard in a fire, because, as the residents say, there is nowhere else for them to go. The only outdoor space where the children play is a patch of grass around the refuse bins, or a car park at the front. At one end trucks trundle back and forth, serving a depot for heavy construction machinery at the back. One boy got his head stuck under a truck, mercifully stationary at the time. Pandemic and lockdown

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