REAL ESTATE AND MOBILITY
New businesses popping up along 16th Street Mall in new effort to revitalize: “This time around we’re really focused on reimagining downtown”
The 16th Street Mall will likely never be what it was pre-pandemic and Denver doesn’t want it to be. Activity in Downtown Denver is 59% of what it was pre-COVID as it led to problems such as high crime, low foot traffic and businesses vacating. Among the empty storefronts on 16th Street Mall, new businesses are popping up. It’s part of an effort to create a “new” downtown. – When construction wraps up on 16th Street (Wievenson says that will hopefully happen by the end of 2024), Denver hopes the area will have more bike lanes, trees, and places for people to congregate. It’s all part of creating that “neighborhood” feel. The Downtown Denver Partnership is also working to convert empty downtown office space into housing. As part of Pop-Up Denver, the organization also has a workshop with 30 retail businesses to prepare them for a collective it hopes to launch downtown.
Making the Leap from TOD to TOC
On the ground, some of these suburban high-rise developments are desolate canyons while others are lively cityscapes, and neither luck nor fate is to blame. The best spaces are the result of a purposeful leap that developers and transit builders have to make together—from transit-oriented development (TOD) to transit-oriented community (TOC). “TOD is a forest of towers beside a transit station,” says Matti Siemiatycki, a professor with Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Cities. “TOC is exceptional places that people want to spend time in.” – “In the last 10 years, it’s become clear that the value created by a new LRT station exceeds what gets captured in new property taxes,” says Rowan Mills of Colliers and vice chair with the Future of Infrastructure Group. Municipalities are looking to developers to return some portion of those gains to the community, be it through parks, public spaces or services, contributions to infrastructure costs, or investments in affordable housing. “There are many ways to do it, but the principle is now entrenched: governments are looking for ways to capture some of that value for the taxpayers who fund the transit,” he says.
Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse and What to Do About It
Journalist Daniel Knowles outlines the rise of the automobile and the costs we all bear as a result. Weaving together history, economics, and reportage, Knowles traces the forces and decisions that normalized cars and cemented our reliance on them. He takes readers around the world to show the ways car use has impacted people’s lives—from Nairobi, where few people own a car but the city is still cloaked in smog, to Houston, where the Katy Freeway has a mind-boggling 26 lanes and there are 30 parking spaces for every resident, enough land to fit Paris ten times. With these negatives, Knowles shows that there are better ways to live, looking at Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and New York City.
Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World
In a beguiling and often absurdly hilarious mix of history, politics, and reportage, Grabar brilliantly surveys the pain points of the nation’s parking crisis, from Los Angeles to Disney World to New York, stopping at every major American city in between. He reveals how the pathological compulsion for car storage has exacerbated some of our most acute problems—from housing affordability to the accelerating global climate disaster—ultimately, lighting the way for us to free our cities from parking’s cruel yoke.
The Return to the Office Has Stalled
About 58% of companies allow employees to work a portion of their week from home, according to Scoop Technologies, a software firm that developed an index monitoring workplace strategies of close to 4,500 companies. The number of companies that require employees to be in the office full time has actually declined to 42%, from 49% three months ago, Scoop said. Employees at companies with hybrid strategies work an average of 2.5 days a week in the office.
Downtowns Are Changing, but ‘Haven’t Plateaued Yet’
I hear people asking a lot, “Why don’t building owners just lower the rent and fill the building with tenants?” The answer is that the valuation of the building is based on the asking rents, so if they lower the rents, they lower the valuation of the building, and most of these buildings are leveraged — collateral against a loan — and that will put the owner automatically underwater on their mortgage. It’s like a game of chicken in which the question is what it’s going to take to get these buildings to reprice. Repricing is the most important piece to adaptation, but even with that there are still a lot of costs associated with adaptation. Cities should start proactively thinking about what to do in order to facilitate the adaptation.
The “return to the office” won’t save the office
As of now, the data shows that a majority of workers who were able to work from home still do some (46 percent) or all (19 percent) of the time, according to the latest data from WFH Research. Before the pandemic, these numbers were in the single digits. Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom, who helps run the project, thinks the number of workers in hybrid situations might actually climb to around 60 percent, with most of the gains coming at the expense of people currently in the office full time. That outcome is already showing up in survey data, as companies who said their workers would be fully on-site last year are now switching to hybrid work.
Why Mass Transit in America Disappeared
You had a growing number of influential people in government, but also voters as well, who weren’t on board for the bond issues required to build quality mass transit that could compete with cars. That begins the process of city centers being remade for the car, with parking lots, parking meters, high-speed parkways. At the same time, you had the introduction of single-family zoning, which from a land use and transportation point of view basically says, “We’re not gonna build dense, ‘crowded’ neighborhoods anymore”—exactly the kinds of neighborhoods that were well served by streetcars and subways. So vast areas were rezoned. There was this enormous annexation in Baltimore, and it was mostly single-family zoning.
Visualized: The Decline of Affordable Housing in the U.S.
So what’s causing the erosion of housing affordability in the U.S.? Ultimately, the U.S. is not building enough houses to keep pace with population growth. And you can see this in the housing start data. In January 1959, there were around 1.7 million housing starts, compared to January 2023, when there were 1.3 million. And this decrease happened despite the fact that the U.S. population nearly doubled, from 176 to 335 million. Lots of different forces are working together at the local level to stop more houses from being built. Space is one reason. Local zoning laws that limit the construction of multi-family homes is another culprit. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused global supply chain issues, leading to rising material costs for housing. And the icing on the cake? Rising interest rates are making it even harder for first-time homebuyers to enter the market.
One in Three Office Buildings in Major North American Cities Could Be Ripe for Multifamily Conversion
Global real estate firm Avison Young identified 6,206 buildings across 10 U.S. cities that could provide an opportunity for conversion to multifamily. The buildings were built before 1990 and have floor sizes below 15,000 square feet. Those are considered better suited for converting to apartments than buildings with large floors that are more difficult to carve up for living space. “No one wants to live in a tunnel,” Sheila Botting, president Avison Young’s professional services, Americas, told CoStar News. Converting old office buildings to other uses, primarily apartments, has gained momentum over the past three years as office buildings emptied out as companies cut back on costs as the economy slows, some downtowns lose their appeal, businesses seek newer and more energy efficient buildings and some staffs shift to working from home or a hybrid model of coming in a few days a week.
The U.S. Lost Half A Million Affordable Housing Units Since Pandemic Onset
The U.S. shortage of affordable housing, bad enough before the pandemic, has only gotten worse since 2020, according to a new report by Moody’s Analytics. Since then, a combination of factors have conspired to eliminate 500,000 units for extremely low-income renters nationwide, or about 8% of the total stock. Many affordable housing properties for that income group, which were funded via Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, or LIHTCs, have reached the end of their 30-year compliance period in the last few years. At the end of that period, the property owners have the option of converting their units to market rate.
As market-rate rents skyrocketed in many markets during 2021 and 2022 especially, the incentives for owners to convert has been strong. “Combined with the pandemic and rents increasing, that puts buildings in the position where they might want to take advantage of that,” Moody’s data scientist David Caputo, a co-author of the report, told Commercial Observer. As LIHTCs reach the end of their compliance periods, more affordable units stand to be lost. By 2028, some 188,000 LIHTC units will expire, Moody’s reports.
Need an apartment? Have we got an office for you!
The problems are scale and cost. Even with their recent uptick, the rate of conversions is far too low to solve cities’ office vacancy problem, CBRE says. And the economics are problematic. In a report last month, Moody’s Analytics found that only 35 of the nearly 1,100 office buildings it tracks in the New York City metro area were suitable for conversion. The rest of the buildings are too expensive to make conversions viable, which means either government subsidies or a big drop in office values and rents would be needed. Such a drop is precisely what has happened, according to the New York and Columbia researchers. In their analysis of the New York office market, they calculated that the actual value of the city’s office buildings had already fallen by 46% since the pandemic and would edge down to more than 50% by 2029 if the work-from-home trend persists. Those averages include top-rated office space; without that space in the calculation, the declines would be even worse.
The latest employee perk is an affordable home
One survey shows saving money and time spent commuting are the most important factors for those who want to work remotely, sharing the top spot with childcare. What’s an employer to do to attract talented workers who can’t afford to live nearby? Help them afford it—or, in some cases, build it for them. That’s the increasing realization of companies across industries, regions, and sizes. This current moment seems the right time for a grander experiment around affordable employer-sponsored housing. The pandemic only underscored desires for flexibility and deeper ties with one’s family, colleagues, and neighborhood. At the same time, most of the market is inaccessible to the typical buyer; a Redfin report found only one in five homes was affordable last year to a median-income US household, compared to two in five in 2021.
Can Extended-Stay Hotels Be Both A Key Safeguard Against Homelessness And A Hot Investment Target?
Being more expensive than permanent housing, extended-stay hotels’ main function within the housing ecosystem is for short-notice stays of indefinite length, often because of sudden loss of housing — a domestic violence situation, a natural disaster and the like, said Dartmouth College associate professor Terri Lewinson, who has published multiple papers on extended-stay hotels and housing insecurity. Extended-stay hotels also can be the only option for individuals with evictions or other items on their legal record that prevent them from qualifying for standard leases, Lewinson and Siegel said. Those individuals often wind up staying for longer periods of time due to their lack of options.
HUD Sees ‘Massive Drop’ In Multifamily Deal Volume, Slowing Housing Production
In the six months ending March 31, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued $6.3B in Federal Housing Administration multifamily loans, HUD General Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Little told Bisnow. That pace puts it on track for roughly $12B this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. This represents a sharp drop from the $24B total in FY 2022 and the $32B total in FY 2021.
‘Granny flats’ play surprising role in easing California’s housing woes
Multifamily properties are incredibly difficult to build in the state’s major cities for reasons including lack of space, environmental laws, and neighborhood opposition. But build an ADU — a small, detached house with its own utilities and entryway — and practically no one bats an eye. Multiplied thousands of times over, as has been occurring in recent years, and the structures begin to look like an important, if only partial, solution to the state’s affordable housing needs.
Imagine a Renters’ Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna.
Experts refer to Vienna’s Gemeindebauten as “social housing,” a phrase that captures how the city’s public housing and other limited-profit housing are a widely shared social benefit: The Gemeindebauten welcome the middle class, not just the poor. In Vienna, a whopping 80 percent of residents qualify for public housing, and once you have a contract, it never expires, even if you get richer. Housing experts believe that this approach leads to greater economic diversity within public housing — and better outcomes for the people living in it.
New Next-Gen Lyft Scooters Hitting Denver’s Streets
Prisse says Lyft’s transit team has been focused in on this launch, with hopes of making its scooters more desirable to ride. A shining example of this is the scooter’s new mounted phone holder, which allows for easier GPS access and even charges the phone while you ride. Now, Prisse notes, people can confidently use Lyft’s new in-app navigation system without worrying about holding their phone in one hand and the handlebars with the other, and without draining their battery on a night out. “Safety for tourists having directions turn-by-turn on the scooter is great,” she says, adding that while some people have Denver’s bike lanes memorized, that isn’t the case for all scooter riders. A band on the trunk of the new scooters will change colors to indicate slow zones, no-parking zones and no-ride zones — potentially alleviating some of the pedestrian- and car-related conflicts that have given scooters a bad name. Lyft is testing out AI capabilities on the scooters in a pilot program in Washington, D.C., to refine their detection of these zones. There’s also a big sticker on the new scooters reminding people not to ride on the sidewalk. Other safety improvements include screens to tell riders how fast they’re going, turn signals and hand brakes. “You don’t have to take your hands off for anything,” Prisse notes. The front tire is larger than the previous model’s, and both tires on the new model are air-free to prevent flats. A new suspension system is supposed to make rides less bumpy.
Mobility could be transformed by 2035, with US car sales dropping 30%: report
Private car sales in the U.S. could decline as much as 30% by 2035 compared with 2015 levels, as governments discourage private-vehicle use and consumers adopt new mobility options, the report says. “By 2035, the share of passenger miles traveled (PMT) in private cars will drop by about 15 percentage points,” the report projects. Private-vehicle use will vary considerably by region, according to McKinsey. In car-reliant metro areas like Los Angeles, private-vehicle use was 89% of the mobility market in 2022 but could fall to 51% by 2035, the report says. In rural areas, private-vehicle use will still dominate the mobility market, with McKinsey predicting their mobility share will decline slightly from 82% in 2022 to 80% in 2035.
Where do driverless cars go when they’re on break? Some idle in Phoenix neighborhoods
“Pretty much any time I’m home I can look out and there’s a 50/50 chance of one being there,” he said. He would watch them pull up smoothly and stop at the curb, lights on, motors running, signature lidar detectors spinning endlessly. Sometimes there would be more than one, as if they had planned to meet at that very spot and hang out. And then what happens? “They just sit there and they wait,” Clarke said. “It’s just kind of weird. It’s creepy because it’s new. I’m sure that in a few years when this kind of thing is more commonplace it won’t seem creepy.” “It doesn’t bother me,” he added. “It’s just unusual.” Clarke has wondered what makes his street so enticing to Waymo vehicles. He has a theory: “I think they must be picking spots that are geographically central to their average call location.”
In Norway, the Electric Vehicle Future Has Already Arrived
Last year, 80 percent of new-car sales in Norway were electric, putting the country at the vanguard of the shift to battery-powered mobility. It has also turned Norway into an observatory for figuring out what the electric vehicle revolution might mean for the environment, workers and life in general. The country will end the sales of internal combustion engine cars in 2025. Norway’s experience suggests that electric vehicles bring benefits without the dire consequences predicted by some critics. There are problems, of course, including unreliable chargers and long waits during periods of high demand. Auto dealers and retailers have had to adapt. The switch has reordered the auto industry, making Tesla the best-selling brand and marginalizing established carmakers like Renault and Fiat.
How Amsterdam Made Room for Microcars
Enter the Canta, a Dutch-built microcar designed in the 1990s specifically for those with limited mobility. The Canta comes in several configurations, including one in which passenger seats are removed so that wheelchair users can enter through the rear and roll up to the steering wheel. According to Dutch law, no driver’s permit or license plate is required to operate one, as it’s classified as a mobility aid. With a top speed of 28 miles per hour, Cantas are just 44 inches (1.1 meters) wide, several inches narrower than a golf cart. Amsterdamers regularly encounter these tiny machines puttering along a cycle path or parked on the sidewalk, both of which are fully legal. Cantas might get in the way every now and then, but given their unique societal role, they have been widely accepted.