Vernon, BC chamber suggests converting offices to living quarters as remote work continues – Okanagan

With more people working from home, could unused office space be turned into apartments?

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce pitches the idea, suggesting it could be a win-win solution that benefits downtown businesses and helps with the housing shortage.

In Okanagan cities, physically going to work still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

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A Canadian Chamber of Commerce study using cellphone data showed that in September Vernon’s trips were still down more than 13% from pre-COVID. (In Penticton, trips decreased by 21.9% and in Kelowna, by 17.7%).

“As we see the change of professionals working more remotely, obviously that creates challenges that go along with that. Some of these professionals may no longer be in the city center and no longer frequent the businesses they used to frequent: going for coffee in the morning or going to lunch or doing their shopping regularly, but in addition to these challenges, there are has opportunities,” said Dan Proulx, General Manager of the Metropolis. Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

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One such opportunity, the chamber says, could be a win-win is to convert “underutilized” office space into mixed-use buildings with housing.

“This will increase traffic to downtown businesses, thereby increasing foot traffic,” said Proulx.

“Obviously this will help alleviate some of the housing crisis we are experiencing here, potentially making life in Vernon more affordable, and employers [might] have more access or ability to attract labour.

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However, Proulx points out that creating parking spaces for residents could be a potential obstacle that should be addressed.

Michael Sanstra, a local real estate agent who works in the commercial sector, likes the idea.

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“In the long term, it could reduce the commercial space available downtown, which is great. This means that existing commercial space will likely be priced higher for future rental opportunities, but it can also encourage further development of commercial space,” Sanstra said.

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Sanstra suggests that if the city wants to encourage downtown housing, it should secure rapid clearance for developers.

While promoters see many potential benefits, it remains to be seen if developers are interested in commercial conversions.

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