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Rep. Schiff proposes bill to turn government buildings into affordable housing

It is estimated that the U.S. government owns 45,000 underutilized buildings and Representative Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, wants to see this vast resource repurposed to fight the nation’s affordable housing crisis.

That is why on Tuesday morning, April 1, he introduced the Government Facilities to Affordable Housing Conversion Act. If passed, the bill would create an annual report on government properties that are suitable for residential reuse and the bill would provide $250 million each year from fiscal year 2025 to 2030 to incentivize conversion projects.

“In a time where so many Americans are continually struggling to find safe, affordable housing, the Government Facilities to Affordable Housing Conversion Act represents a step forward in our efforts to address the housing crisis,” said Schiff in a statement. “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, running for the U.S. Senate in California in November, has touted the adaptive reuse of buildings as one of his key strategies to address the nation’s homelessness and housing affordability crises — both of which have reached record highs.

A recent Harvard University study found that 22.4 million households, or about half of the nation’s renters, are “rent burdened” — meaning they spend 30% or more of their income for housing.

Across the U.S., there is a shortage of 7 million housing units that are affordable to renters below the poverty line or renters who make 30% or less of their area’s median income, a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found. California needs to build 2.5 million new units by 2030, of which 1 million must be priced at affordable levels, in order to meet the state’s housing needs, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We cannot stand by while the housing shortage displaces families and erodes the middle class. It’s time to employ a broad range of strategies to ensure that every American has access to a safe, affordable place to call home,” said Schiff.

Schiff’s bill would direct the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to facilitate the conversion of property owned by federal, state, and local government into affordable residential rental projects.

The legislation would require an annual report that examines whether real estate owned by the federal government is being optimized, whether the amount of real estate owned by the federal government should be reduced and whether it is suitable to conversion into housing.

It would also establish a $250 million grant fund for each of the fiscal years 2025 through 2030, which the states, and federally recognized Indian Tribes, and local governments could use to cover the cost of purchasing eligible buildings and turning them into affordable housing.

The bill is cosponsored by California Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Riverside and Rhode Island Rep. Gabe Amo, D-Pawtucket. It has the backing of California State Association of Counties, the National Association of Realtors, the National Community Development Association, and People Assisting the Homeless.

The California legislature is also championing adaptive reuse as a core strategy to address the state’s housing crisis.

Much of this charge has been led by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who represents many low-income renters in his central and South Los Angeles district.

In 2022, Newsom signed Santiago’s AB 1695 into law, which allows state funding and loans for the conversion of existing buildings into affordable multifamily housing. In the same year, Newsom signed AB 2011 allowing housing to be built on underutilized commercial sites currently zoned for retail, office and parking uses.

While adaptive reuse sounds promising in theory it can prove challenging in practice.

Not all buildings are well-suited to conversion and bringing offices or commercial structures up to California’s extensive housing and zoning code requirements can be costly and time-consuming. Bills quickly stack up as buildings are altered with air conditioning, windows, plumbing, seismic retrofitting and more in order to become habitable.

In March, Santiago introduced two new pieces of legislation to help tackle these issues by cutting red tape and creating more funding incentive programs.

AB 2909 would expand the Mills Act to make a funding pool available to adaptive reuse projects. AB 2910 would allow cities that are in compliance with state housing laws to craft their own zoning codes to make it easier to approve adaptive reuse projects.

“Adaptive reuse is a critical tool to addressing California’s housing crisis and furthering our sustainability goals while breathing new life into downtowns across the state,” said Santiago in a March 12 statement. “We can do this by cutting red tape and creating more incentives through our bills AB 2909 and AB 2910.”

Source: Orange County Register

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