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Boston Launches Program To Incentivize Office-To-Residential Conversions

The Boston Planning & Development Agency's James Arthur Jemison and The Mount Vernon Co.'s Bruce Percelay discuss the future of Boston development.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency has begun accepting applications from developers looking for tax incentives to turn downtown office buildings into apartments. 

The agency said in a release Tuesday it launched the Downtown Residential Conversion Incentive Pilot Program as a way to create more housing stock downtown as well as support struggling owners whose buildings have been underutilized. 

The program, first announced in July, provides a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes incentive for developers that pursue conversion projects. The average tax reduction would be up to 75% of the standard tax rate for up to 29 years.

Projects will be approved if they fit the program criteria: project feasibility, ability to meet timeline requirements and appropriateness to the program's goals.

Last week, the agency approved a Demonstration Project Plan Area to help facilitate these conversions downtown. The area encompasses downtown, the Financial District, Chinatown, the Bulfinch Triangle Historic District, the Leather District and the Fort Point Channel Historic District.

Any applications must meet inclusionary zoning and new stretch code standards to comply, the BPDA release said. The agency is working with state and federal officials to introduce potential short-term grant opportunities for property owners.

The agency is accepting applications for the program until June, with applications being approved on a rolling basis. Approved projects must commit to pulling a full building permit and beginning construction by October 2025.

There has been skepticism from the commercial real estate community about how viable a program this could be to revitalize the city's downtown. From the building stock being suitable for conversions to high interest rates and construction costs making it a costly endeavor, office owners are unsure about the program's likelihood of success, the Boston Business Journal reported last week.