Roundtable’s William C. Rudin Discusses Public Policies to Strengthen CRE and the Economy

Real Estate Roundtable Chairman Emeritus (2015-2018) William C. Rudin (Co-Executive Chairman, Rudin)

Real Estate Roundtable Chairman Emeritus (2015-2018) William C. Rudin (Co-Executive Chairman, Rudin) discussed commercial real estate conditions on CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning, emphasizing how public policies could help the industry meet significant challenges as it faces a wave of looming maturities in a high-interest rate environment.

Federal Action Needed

  • Rudin noted that unless a property owner has a top-tier asset with a stable long-term lease, liquidity is a major issue. “The federal government and the Federal Reserve have to keep giving the banks flexibility to be able to restructure some of the loans.” (Watch Rudin’s comments)
  • Rudin added, “The federal government should support legislation to help incentivize owners to convert obsolete office buildings to residential—and the federal government should be getting their employees back into the office space.” (Entire Rudin interview)
  • Rudin referenced recent testimony by Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer that addressed these issues during a House subcommitteeon the “Health of the Commercial Real Estate Markets and Removing Regulatory Hurdles to Ensure Continued Strength.” (Roundtable Weekly, May 3 and video of DeBoer’s testimony)

Roundtable Recommendations

Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer
  • The Roundtable’s testimony last week addressed a wide swath of concerns for owners, lenders, and local communities. DeBoer discussed specific issues with House policymakers, including market liquidity, the state of the office sector, remote work, affordable housing, and property conversions. (DeBoer’s oral statement and written testimony)
  • DeBoer also emphasized the need for lawmakers to stimulate the production of affordable housing by converting obsolete buildings into housing, increasing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit volume caps, incentivizing local zoning and permitting reforms, increasing efficiency in the Section 8 housing voucher program, and more. (Roundtable Weekly, May 3)
  • Separately, The Roundtable and a broad real estate coalition submitted a set of specific policy recommendations last week to Congress detailing a host of pending legislative and regulatory actions that would help provide housing to more Americans. (Roundtable Weekly, May 3)

The Roundtable’s all-member Annual Meeting on June 20-21 in Washington, DC will include speakers and policy advisor committee meetings focused on many of these topics.

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Roundtable Recommends Agency Actions to Accelerate Property Conversions

Jared Bernstein, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, right, and Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer

The Real Estate Roundtable urged the Biden administration to take a series of actions to support commercial-to-residential property conversions in an April 15 letter to Jared Bernstein, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. (see Meeting story above)

Improving Agency Resources

  • The Roundtable’s letter aims to harness various federal loan programs and tax incentives to provide financial support for CRE conversions.
  • These programs, enhanced by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, can ideally be tailored to accelerate projects that transform underutilized assets into housing
  • RER’s letter states, “The Federal Guidebook’s featured programs have not lived up to their promise—yet.” The Roundtable’s suggestions to improve these U.S. agency resources support goals to increase housing supply, revitalize urban downtowns, and cut carbon emissions.

Roundtable Recommendations

Real Estate Roundtable letter on property conversions April 15, 2024
  • The April 15 letter urges agency actions to streamline environmental reviews, hasten the federal loan underwriting process, and layer various agency loan platforms to help finance housing conversions.
  • The letter recommends specific improvements to the Department of Transportation’s loan programs for transit-oriented development, which can also resonate for resources offered by HUD, DOE and EPA.
  • The Roundtable letter also details changes to the tax code and exisiting incentives that can increase energy efficiency and renewable energy investments in commercial-to-residential building conversions.

The Roundtable will continue to coordinate with White House staff and encourage modifications to federal regulations and laws that can improve CRE conversion projects.

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White House Recommends Policies to Increase Affordable Housing

2024 Economic Report of the President & Council of Economic Advisers

The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report yesterday on policies to boost the supply of affordable rental and ownership units—proposals that could form the foundation of a housing push during a second Biden term. (2024 Economic Report of the President and New York Times, March 21)

Zoning Reform, LIHTC

  • The report explains that the federal government could reduce exclusionary zoning via grants and other spending, and directly subsidize affordable unit construction through programs like the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The report adds, “Ultimately, meaningful change will require State and local governments to reevaluate the land-use regulations that reduce the housing supply.”

Addressing Equity

  • The Council’s report addresses how increasing the housing supply could increase access and equity for groups with few financial resources, increase overall wealth, and reduce disparities across groups. (Page 163 of the Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisers)
  • The report notes that exclusionary zoning policies, such as prohibitions on multifamily homes, are a “subset of local land-use regulations that can constrain the housing supply and thus decrease affordability.”

This week, President Biden also spoke in Las Vegas about his plans to “establish an innovative program to help communities build and renovate housing or convert housing from empty office spaces into housing, empty hotels into housing.” (White House remarks, March 19 and Roundtable Weekly, March 15)

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Industry Leaders Discuss Office Market Pressures, Challenges, Opportunities

Aerial Point of View of  Downtown Nashville, Tennessee

The ramifications of declining values for certain office properties were the focus of several national media interviews this week with industry leaders. The pressures, challenges, and opportunities of the current office market are the consequence of remote work and a post-pandemic shift in the use of the built environment—realities that are leading city officials to assess lower tax revenue assessments and consider policy changes to incentivize commercial-to-residential conversions, cutbacks to local services, or raising taxes. (New York Times, March 14)

Office Conversions

•	Roundtable Chairman Emeritus Bill Rudin (Co-Chairman and CEO, Rudin Management Co.)
  • The New York Times reported this week on the options facing municipal officials as nearly $3 trillion of outstanding commercial real estate debt is coming due by 2028 while tax revenue from commercial properties drops. Refinancing certain office assets at reduced values remains difficult during a period of high interest rates and heightened regulatory concern about regional banks’ office loan concentrations. (Trepp, Dec. 21, 2023 and Roundtable Weekly, March 8)
  • Rudin offered examples in New York City of successful office reuse. He also emphasized how other cities need to convert obsolete office buildings to residential use by changing multiple dwelling laws, zoning statutes, and a providing a robust tax abatement to incentivize capital into the marketplace for conversions.  
  • “It’s a public-private partnership. The capital will come to those projects with the right structure that start creating housing on all levels: affordable, workforce, market rate,” Rudin said.

Evolving Opportunities

Real Estate Roundtable Member Hessam Nadji (President and CEO, Marcus & Millichap)
  • Roundtable Member Hessam Nadji (President and CEO, Marcus & Millichap) spoke with CNBC’s Worldwide Exchange today about the bifurcated office market. He added that investors are exploring opportunities in shopping centers and high-quality offices in suburban markets.
  • “(We are) hearing from various institutional investors that it’s the time to buy. Prices have adjusted. There’s record capital on the sidelines. And when you combine those two with confidence that the economy is going to hold up pretty well, you’re going to see capital come back,” Nadji said.
  • Blackstone President and Chief Operating Officer Jon Gray discussed investor opportunities in commercial real estate yesterday with Bloomberg Television.
  • “As investors, sometimes, one of the risks is that you miss it by being overly cautious and I think now is probably a good time before rates come down. There are definitely assets that were financed in a different era, particularly in commercial real estate because there has been a more profound impact in the office sector—and that will create opportunities,” Gray said.

On the public buildings front, the Biden administration’s 2025 budget plan proposes $425 million for the General Services Administration to reduce the federal footprint and long-term costs through a new “optimization program.” (Federal News Network, March 11)

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White House Holds Property Conversions Briefing for Roundtable Members

Last week, the White House hosted a virtual briefing for Roundtable members to discuss federal loan and guarantee programs at the federal departments of Energy, Housing, Transportation and the General Services Administration that may assist with financing commercial-to-residential conversion projects.

Property Conversions Briefing

  • In October, the administration announced a suite of federal resources—including low-interest loans—across various agencies to assist conversion projects aimed at increasing the housing supply, revitalizing urban downtowns, and cutting climate pollution. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 27; White House Commercial to Residential Conversions Guidebook)
  • The briefing last week provided members with a high-level overview of the administration’s conversion work and focused on the Transportation Department’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement (RRIF) financing programs. (See FAQs)
  • White House staff also announced upcoming workshops with the Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau to learn more about how TIFIA and RRIF financing can be used for transit-oriented development (“TOD”) that takes the form of adaptive reuse.

Upcoming Workshops – Federal Resources to Support Commercial-to-Residential Conversions

IRA Tax Incentives – 179D

  • White House staff on the property conversions briefing mentioned that green tax incentives enacted by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) may be layered with other federal loan, guarantee, and grant programs to support a project.  (See RER fact sheet, “Clean Energy Tax Incentives Relevant to U.S Real Estate)
  • Roundtable Senior Vice President & Counsel Duane Desiderio was quoted this week in Tax Notes on the deduction in section 179D for energy-efficient commercial buildings.
  • “The IRA’s changes to section 179D are good policy, but more changes need to be made for the deduction to reach its full potential,” said Desiderio.” (Tax Notes, Nov. 28). He explained that Congress should make 179D “transferable” by REITs and other private sector owners.

The Roundtable’s Property Conversions Working Group will continue to serve as a conduit between our members and the administration to help design impactful policies that can assist with office-to-residential conversions. Please contact Roundtable SVPs Duane Desiderio (ddesiderio@rer.org) or Ryan McCormick (rmccormick@rer.org) for more information.

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Biden Administration Announces Support for Financing Commercial to Residential Property Conversions

The Biden administration today revealed a suite of federal resources—including low-interest loans—to assist commercial to residential conversions that increase housing supply, revitalize urban downtowns, and cut climate pollution. (White House fact sheet; Bloomberg, Oct. 27).

Holistic Federal Strategy

  • Roundtable President and CEO, Jeffrey D. DeBoer said, “The pandemic’s indelible impact on where Americans live and work continues to reverberate through the real estate industry, which is at the center of this societal transition. The Roundtable supports innovative policy that reimagines the adaptive reuse of CRE, rejuvenates affordable housing and urban downtowns, and addresses the climate crisis. The guidance released by the White House today checks all these boxes—and bolsters our agenda to improve the health of our cities, local tax bases, and small businesses.”   
  • Among the actions announced today, conversion projects located near mass transit hubs would be eligible for low-interest financing under U.S. Department of Transportation programs. “TIFIA” and “RRIF” loans are pegged to US Treasuries at 5.03 percent interest (today’s rates).
  • Transit-oriented projects supported by TIFIA and RRIF financing do not require affordable housing units—although they can be “stacked” with projects supported by low-income housing tax credits and local laws may have independent inclusionary zoning mandates. (FAQs on project eligibility)
  • The White House announcement also directs the General Services Administration (GSA) to identify “surplus” federal properties that private developers may help to convert to housing.
  • A fact sheet summarizing the administration’s actions indicates that training workshops will be held this fall for real estate owners, developers, and lenders on how to use federal programs included in the White House’s new “Commercial to Residential Conversions” guidebook, which describes how 20 programs across six federal agencies can be used to support adaptive re-use projects.
  • The Administration’s guidebook also explains how mortgage insurance and grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can leverage state, local, and private sector capital as layers in the capital stack to support adaptive reuse.

Adaptive Reuse a “Win-Win”

  • Real estate market conditions with high office vacancies “present[ ] an area of opportunity to increase housing supply while revitalizing Main Streets,” said National Economic Council Director Lael Brainerd. “It’s a win-win.” (POLITICOPro, Oct. 27) (WH Council of Economic Advisors blog post)
  • White House efforts to assist property conversions lands as national office vacancy stands at nearly 18 percent—with some major metro areas experiencing vacancies higher than one-fifth of their entire inventory—according to a report from  analytics firm Yardi Matrix released on Thursday. (Commercial Observer, Oct. 26)
  • Architectural firm Gensler released a report on Monday that estimates 25% of under-performing U.S. office properties are suitable candidates for conversion projects.

The initiative builds on the Biden Administration’s announcement last July to boost the nation’s housing supply. (Roundtable Weekly, July 28).  The Roundtable will continue to serve as a conduit between our members and the Biden Administration to help design impactful policies that can assist with office to residential conversions.

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Educational Institutions Increase Office Acquisitions; CRE Adaptive Reuse Rises

CBRE chart on CRE conversions

Recent CRE research shows an increasing number of colleges and universities are acquiring office buildings for adaptive reuse. Meanwhile, an overall surge in U.S. office-conversion projects scheduled for completion this year represents more than double the average annual pace. Federal, state and local conversion-incentive programs could play an important role going forward. (New York Times, Oct. 3 and CBRE, Rise in Office Conversions May Help to Reinvigorate Cities, Sept. 27)

Conversion Trends

  • Data from JLL cited in this week’s New York Times article shows dozens of U.S. institutions of higher education have bought office buildings since 2018—including 49 four-year private schools and 16 four-year public institutions—often for conversion to academic use.
  • Separately, CBRE research published Sept. 27 shows that a surge in office-conversion projects in major U.S. cities this year (nearly half of them in the multifamily sector) may help urban economies recover after the pandemic-induced shift to hybrid working. (Commercial Property Executive, Oct. 2 and GlobeSt, Sept. 29)
  • The CBRE report shows that 60 million square feet of office conversions are planned or in progress in 40 U.S. markets, which represents 1.4 percent of the nation’s office inventory. The report also notes that, despite a variety of government incentive programs, adaptive reuse is not a panacea for problems facing the U.S. office market, especially in a high interest rate environment.

Role of Policy

  • An Oct. 16 discussion during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting in Washington, DC will address policy initiatives impacting building conversions, and other challenges facing CRE, during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting in Washington, DC.
  • The Roundtable strongly supports policies that provide incentives for office-to-residential conversions. Last Dec, The Roundtable urged the Biden administration to support “legislation to facilitate the increased conversion of underutilized office and other commercial real estate to much-needed housing.” (RER letter to President Biden, Dec. 12, 2022 and Roundtable Weekly, Aug. 11, 2023)
  • This week, Roundtable Senior Vice President Chip Rodgers joined a group of business groups’ representatives to brief the staff of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets.
  • The Oct. 2 briefing emphasized the need for policymakers to address dislocations in the office market by 1) incentivizing the conversion of outmoded office properties to residential use to help meet the nation’s housing needs; and 2) requiring federal government workers return to their offices.
  • Federal government programs will incentivize local jurisdictions to pursue office-to-residential conversions, according to CBRE. Federal incentives also aim to encourage financing mechanisms to build and preserve more housing, while reducing land-use and zoning restrictions for affordable and zero-emissions housing. (CBRE, Sept. 27)

A Real Estate Roundtable property conversions working group has worked with lawmakers for several months on draft legislation to create a tax credit for converting older commercial buildings to housing.

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House Democrats Urge Federal Regulators to Incentivize CRE Conversions

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) at hearing

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), above, and nine other House Democrats last week urged federal banking regulators to incentivize conversions of commercial real estate to other uses. Rep. Gomez previously introduced the Roundtable-supported Revitalizing Downtowns Act (H.R. 4759) in 2021 to encourage adaptive use of older buildings. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) also introduced companion legislation in the Senate (S. 2511). (Rep. Gomez news release, July 31)

Federal Regulators & CRE Conversions

  • The recent letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and other regulators stated that the congressional policymakers are concerned how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exert a negative influence on markets and regional banks. “We are especially interested in the impact of this instability on the $6 trillion dollar market for retail and office space CRE, which has been unduly impacted by pandemic related disruptions,” the letter states.
  • The letter also noted, “It is essential that all arms of the federal government take prudent steps to limit the impact of a CRE market contraction, and innovate to encourage reuse of vacant commercial space as a potential source of housing.” (Rep. Gomez news release, July 31)

Legislation & Tax Credits 

Chicago office building into condominiums

White House Initiative The White House

  • The Roundtable on Dec. 12, 2022 urged the Biden administration to support “legislation to facilitate the increased conversion of underutilized office and other commercial real estate to much-needed housing.” (RER letter to President Biden, Dec. 12 andGlobeSt, Aug. 8)
  • Last month, the administration announced a new initiative that will establish a multi-agency working group to “develop and advance federal funding opportunities” for commercial-to-residential conversions that would help increase the supply of energy-efficient affordable housing. (Reuters and HousingWire, July 27 | Roundtable Weekly, July 28)

New CRE Conversion Study

  • new analysis from researchers at New York University and Columbia University explores the potential for renewable energy investment tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act to help subsidize CRE adaptive use and green conversions. (National Bureau of Economic Research
  • The August study, Converting Brown Offices to Green Apartments, also notes the significant role that local zoning laws, permitting policies, and building codes could play in encouraging CRE conversions. The authors conclude that about 11% of commercial office buildings in the 105 largest cities are candidates for conversion, and that an estimated 400,000 new apartment units could be created. (Axios, Aug. 8)

property conversions working group created by The Real Estate Roundtable’s Tax Policy Advisory Committee will continue to respond to legislative proposals affecting potential property conversion activities. 

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Office-to-Residential Conversions Part of New Biden Plan to Increase Energy-Efficient, Affordable Housing Supply

The White House

The Biden administration announced a new initiative yesterday to increase the energy-efficient affordable housing supply, including a multi-agency working group to “develop and advance federal funding opportunities” for commercial-to-residential reuse. (Reuters and HousingWire, July 27)

Support for Office Conversions

  • White House Chief Domestic Policy Adviser Neera Tanden said, “With high rates of commercial vacancies across the country, we see a tremendous opportunity for conversions to residential housing.” (PoliticoPro, July 27)
  • An administration statement listed a variety of new initiatives aimed at lowering housing costs and boosting supply that include:
    • Promoting commercial-to-residential conversion opportunities, particularly for affordable and zero emissions housing; 
    • Expanding financing for affordable, energy efficient and resilient housing; and,
    •  Reducing barriers to build housing such as restrictive and costly land use and zoning rules. 

Agency Actions 

HUD building in Washington, DC

  • HUD: Yesterday’s announcement included opportunities for localities that develop high-density zoning rules to apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under a new “Pro-Housing” Program. This follows HUD’s release on Tuesday of new funds for research and policy guidance on economically viable office-to-residential conversions, with applications due by October 12. (HUD Press Release)
  • DOT: A similar grant program run by the Department of Transportation (DOT), “Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods,” will provide funds for planning and construction projects (primarily in disadvantaged communities) for transit-oriented affordable housing.
  • EPA: The White House also announced that the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, created by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be available for energy efficiency building retrofits and commercial-to-residential conversions.
  • GSA: The White House statement advised that the General Services Administration (GSA) will launch an effort to identify under-utilized and surplus assets in the federal real estate portfolio that present the “best opportunities” for public-private partnership, commercial-to-residential projects.
  • DOE: Yesterday, the Department of Energy (DOE) released program and legal documents for $8.8 billion in rebates authorized by the IRA. State-level energy agencies will dole out federal rebates that can be used for high-efficiency appliances and electrification equipment installed in single-family homes and multifamily units, including measures in adaptive reuse projects

This week’s announcements follow commitments made by the Biden-Harris administration in its Housing Supply Action Plan, released in May 2022. That month, The Real Estate Roundtable and 18 other real estate organizations urged Congress to work with the Biden administration, housing providers, lenders, and other stakeholders to pursue bipartisan solutions to increase the nation’s supply of housing. (Coalition letter, May 23 and Roundtable Weekly, May 22) 

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CRE “Adaptive Reuse” Report Shows Increase; Industry Coalition Urges Expansion of Conversion Incentive

RentCafe chart of Top Conversion Building Types

The conversion of former offices to apartments reached an all-time high in the last two years—40% of all existing building repurposing projects—reflecting a rapid increase in “adaptive reuse” throughout the nation, according to a Nov. 7 RentCafe analysis of Yardi Matrix data. (Download pdf or see website)

Conversion Trend

  • Large cities such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh have embraced conversion projects to repurpose old buildings and unused office spaces, according to the report. (BusinessInsider, Nov. 8)
  • Offices are the largest share of all building types undergoing conversion, representing 28% of future apartments, followed by hotels (22%) and factories (16 %).
  • Los Angeles ranks first in the nation with the most converted apartments in the first half of 2022. (RentCafe analysis of Yardi Matrix data.)

Conversion Development Obstacles

Conversion difficult prospect

  • As building occupancy levels remain depressed due to lingering remote working arrangements, cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are proposing plans to relax building rules and create tax incentives for property owners undertake conversions. (Axios, Sept. 28)
  • A Roundtable-led coalition of 16 national real estate organizations on Oct. 12 recommended certain enhancements and expansions to a 20 percent tax credit for qualified property conversion expenditures, which is part of the Revitalizing Downtowns Act (S. 2511H.R. 4759).  The recommendations include expanding the category of properties eligible for the credit to various types of commercial buildings such as shopping centers and hotels.
  • The coalition letter also emphasized the significant obstacles that the industry continues to face with conversion projects. Obstacles that frequently arise include property acquisition, permitting, development review, toxic contamination, property age and code conformance, and a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment. Additionally, the structural elements of an existing structure—columns, beams, floor layouts and size, ceiling height, etc.—often pose hurdles that add cost and extra delays to an otherwise desirable repurposing of a building. (GlobeSt, Oct. 12 and Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 14)

The letter to the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), offers several recommendations to help ensure the legislation drives additional economic investment and brings down housing costs.

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