Converting vacant office space to residential units is one way to create needed housing in Portland. These projects present unique challenges that building owners and managers should know before the permitting process begins.
In March 2023, the Portland City Council took steps to help ease the conversion of office spaces to housing units:
- It provided a limited exemption from system development charges when such conversions undertake seismic retrofits to make them safer in an earthquake.
- It changed the seismic design requirements for office-to-residential conversions to meet a standard for life safety that enables occupants of a building to exit it safely following a major earthquake.
If you are an owner or manager of an office building and considering converting all or some of the space for housing, the City’s development review bureaus are ready to help you. Here is helpful information as you consider whether to pursue such a conversion.
Contact the Customer Success Team at Development Services
Send an email message to BDSCustomerSuccess@portlandoregon.gov to begin this process and indicate your interest in pursuing an office-to-residential conversion. If available, please provide the address of the building, the contact information of the project applicant or architect who can speak to the project scope of work, and a brief description of the work including the number of floors being converted and the number of residential units being added. Development Services will assign a point of contact to work with you throughout the early phases of this process.
The point of contact will reach out for more information
The assigned point of contact will contact you for further information about your project.
A project team will be assembled
The point of contact will assemble a project team from various development review bureaus. The team will review the information you provide, conduct research based on your site’s features and history, and identify initial concerns to consider in the early phases of the permitting process.
Walk-through of site to be arranged
The point of contact will reach out to you to arrange a walk-through of your building. That walk-through will include you, your architect or designer, and project team members to discuss your vision and ask questions. This is the first opportunity for an on-site discussion and to find potential issues and concerns to address before you develop your architectural plans.
An early assistance meeting with development review bureaus can be scheduled
Before you prepare your permit application, an early assistance meeting will offer an opportunity for you and your architect or designer to meet with staff from Development Services and other development review bureaus (Environmental Services, Fire and Rescue, Housing, Transportation, Urban Forestry and Water). This will include a discussion of your plans, the fees and system development charges you are likely to incur, and what changes and upgrades the City may require for your project. This early assistance meeting will help you prepare a complete permit application.
If further land use reviews are needed, those reviews will be identified at this stage, before a permit application is submitted.
Still need help? Schedule a free 15-minute appointment
If you have questions after reviewing the information on this page, we recommend you schedule a free 15-minute appointment with a permit technician to discuss the permitting process, or with a building code and engineering reviewer to discuss building code and seismic requirements.
This is an optional step. We're here for you if you have questions about the information and materials you need to apply.