Commercial Conversion Initiative

Helping communities transform underutilized office and commercial spaces into homes

MassHousing's Commercial Conversion Initiative promotes growth and vitality in downtown areas while addressing the statewide need for new housing. The program provides municipalities with a suite of planning services that will accelerate the reuse and redevelopment of underutilized commercial buildings across Massachusetts.

Cities across the United States are responding to changes in the nature of work by promoting residential uses in their downtowns. They are seeking to activate downtown neighborhoods by repurposing underutilized commercial space into new housing.

Communities across Massachusetts are poised to transform vacant commercial spaces into new homes, but commercial conversion efforts can be hampered by gaps in opportunity, capacity and funding. MassHousing's Commercial Conversion Initiative addresses these gaps by offering new planning resources that will assist the redevelopment of underutilized commercial spaces.

The Commercial Conversion Initiative supports the redevelopment of vacant and underutilized commercial buildings by

  • Identifying the best candidates for commercial-to-housing conversions in participating cities;
  • Conducting floor plan and feasibility analyses for well-positioned buildings; and
  • Assisting in lowering regulatory barriers to redevelopment and reuse. 

Technical assistance services under the Commercial Conversion Initiative will position projects to compete for capital funding proposed under the Governor's Affordable Homes Act.

Information Session

An informational webinar about the Commercial Conversion Initiative was held on Tuesday, March 26.

Program Overview

Through the Commercial Conversion Initiative, MassHousing will provide municipalities with planning services that promote the redevelopment of vacant and underutilized downtown commercial properties.

Examples of successful commercial-to-residential conversions exist across Massachusetts. However, not every commercial building is well-suited for residential reuse. The Commercial Conversion Initiative will help communities identify and advance the best candidates for housing redevelopment by sequencing planning services to first focus on buildings' physical viability within a downtown study area, then exploring pathways to economic viability.

MassHousing provides municipal applicants with grants of technical assistance services. MassHousing does not make cash awards to municipal applicants.

Applications for the Commercial Conversion Initiative are being accepted until May 1, 2024 and MassHousing will process applications as they are received. Depending on the level of interest, MassHousing may reopen the application after processing applications that are received by May 1, 2024.

Access the online application. Please note that the application does not save. View a PDF of the application questions before proceeding.

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Massachusetts municipalities with downtown areas containing potential commercial-to-residential conversion projects are eligible to apply for technical assistance under MassHousing's Commercial Conversion Initiative.

The Commercial Conversion Initiative recognizes that municipalities across Massachusetts vary in size and character, and what constitutes a downtown area in each municipality is unique. The program aims to support municipalities of varying characteristics, and eligibility criteria reflect the unique nature each municipality while focusing planning work on marketable projects.

Municipalities must meet the following criteria to apply:

  1. Have a population of under 250,000
  2. Have downtown areas that feature three or more commercial buildings of at least three stories, located in close proximity to other active uses, and with pedestrian access to local amenities

Technical assistance services are reserved for downtown buildings of at least three stories, in which uses above the ground floor are currently assessed as commercial space. Both occupied and unoccupied downtown buildings are eligible for planning services under the program.

Participating communities should be prepared to share Geographic Information Service (GIS) shapefiles and assessor's data for the downtown study area at the time of application.

MassHousing's Commercial Conversion Initiative is focused on overcoming the unique technical and financial challenges faced by downtown housing redevelopments. MassHousing offers planning grants that help cities and towns implement a wide range of other housing production goals. Cities and towns seeking help transforming properties that do not meet eligibility criteria under the Commercial Conversion Initiative – including retail strips, office parks and vacant lots – are encouraged to pursue planning assistance through MassHousing’s Planning for Housing Production program

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