One solution to the housing crisis in Ottawa may be in the downtown core. Some office buildings have already been converted into residential units, and more projects are on the way.
Sandra Ross moved into a rental apartment on Albert Street in March.
“There wasn’t a tonne available for sure, but I was quite sure I wanted to be living in a downtown area,” she says.
The building that Ross lives in is a former federal office building, recently converted into 158 rental suites.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like an office,” she says. “The finishes are fabulous; it’s just ready to put your own touch on.”
Called, ‘The Slayte,’ the building has units ranging from bachelor apartments to 2-bedrooms plus a den. The rent ranges from $1,800 to $3,200 per month, with some units dedicated as affordable living at around $1,500.
The building now has a rooftop patio, gym, common areas and other amenities, such as a business centre with meeting spaces for residents working from home.
“Well, we saw the opportunity, the building was available and we are in the apartment business,” says John Cosentino, InterRent REIT Property Manager.
A model suite at a converted office to residential apartment space in Ottawa. (Peter Szperling/CTV News Ottawa)
Many government workers continue hybrid work-from-home arrangement, so that’s left many office spaces vacant and parts of downtown nearly empty.
“For a long time, we’ve heard about life lacking downtown. Well, we want to bring life back to the downtown area,” says Cosentino.
However, replacing cubicles and desks with bedrooms and kitchens takes a lot of work, and time,
“You have to take a look at everything from the plumbing, mechanical, electrical; everything has to be redone,” says Oz Drewniak, CLV Development Inc. President.
Drewniak says the conversion of apartments on Albert Street took two years of construction, plus about a year and half of planning at the height of the pandemic.
Similar work, converting offices to apartments, is already taking place at 360 Laurier Avenue West, with 139 apartments set to be finished in 2025, according to Drewniak.
“It’s a great way to bring housing into the city, in a expedited way because the buildings are already existing. I think it also helps remove some of the vacancy in the office space, where buildings are just going to sit dark. And, I think most importantly, by doing that here downtown, we can bring people downtown and stimulate the downtown environment again.”
A report for next Wednesday’s Planning and Housing Committee meeting recommends the city waive the planning application fee for office-to-residential conversions in cases where both an official plan amendment and a zoning bylaw amendment are required. It’s part of a plan to make it easier for developers to convert unused office space into housing to address a housing shortage.
With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Ted Raymond