Calif. Congressmen Want to Turn Unused Government Buildings Into Affordable Housing

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Members of the U.S. House of Representatives from California want to dedicate $250 million each year to help convert underutilized government-owned properties across the country into affordable housing.

Calif. Reps. Adam Schiff and Jimmy Gomez on Tuesday introduced a bill supporting the conversion of underutilized federal, state and local government-owned buildings into affordable units. The lawmakers said the Government Facilities to Affordable Housing Conversion Act would further incentivize efforts that help tackle two crises at once: empty office buildings and the lack of affordable housing.

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“By repurposing government buildings that have outlived their original use, we’re not only making efficient use of our resources but also increasing the supply of affordable housing,” Schiff said in a statement. “We cannot stand by while the housing shortage displaces families and erodes the middle class.”

The bill would direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work together to identify vacant and underutilized federal buildings that would be suitable for residential development, maintain the public list sale opportunities, and provide an annual report to Congress on these efforts. The report would examine whether the real estate owned by the federal government is being optimized, whether the amount of real estate owned should be reduced, and whether any of it could be converted into affordable dwelling units. 

The GSA alone owns or leases more than 360 million square feet in more than 8,000 buildings across the country, including offices, courthouses and laboratories, according to past CO reporting.

The proposed legislation would also create the $250 million grant program to support and fund state and local governments in facilitating similar conversions and provide additional funding to study the effectiveness of office-to-resi conversions.

Last month, the Biden administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 designated $425 million for the GSA for a real estate “optimization program” that would reconfigure federal buildings and sell the ones it doesn’t need anymore. The GSA has already unloaded millions of square feet, according to past reporting. In November, the agency said it would further cut another 3.5 million square feet and more than $1 billion in costs over the next 10 years.

The California State Legislature is considering similar reuse proposals. Last month, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago introduced AB 2909 and AB 2910 to bring more housing units in place of underused commercial buildings. Santiago cited the large shifts toward remote work, and stabilized day-to-day office occupancy hovering around 50 percent in city centers across California.

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.