Converting Unused Hotels into Homes

Repurposing commercial space for good.


(Couetesy Plato's Cave)

Affordable housing in US cities just got a lot easier to find. That’s because Repvblik, a Los Angeles, California based company is turning unused commercial space into homes for low income people.

Hotels across the US are closing, the pandemic didn’t help, but some have been vacant for years. A former Days Inn in Branson Missouri is one such example. According to Fast Company, the hotel was unused for eight years. Now, it is being used for affordable housing.  

Repvblik repurposed this empty hotel into a housing project called Plato’s Cove that features studio and one-bedroom apartments for low income people who could not afford standard rent prices. According to the company, rents start at $495 for an unfurnished studio that includes all utilities, one large room, a kitchenette, and a full bath. The monthly income requirement is only 2.5 times the rent.

“We’re talking about folks that might not be poor enough to get subsidized housing,” Richard Rubin, founder of Repvblik told Fast Company. The company can keep the rents low because they can purchase vacant properties cheaply and conversions are also cheaper to do than new construction.

Now, Branson, a city that depended heavily on tourism has affordable housing for people who have low income jobs or are out of work due to the economic downturn that occurred because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But unlike most affordable housing projects, the company did not use federal funding. “We were told with this market that it couldn’t be done,” said Rubin. “Everyone said, ‘You can’t do it without low-income housing tax credits,’ which is completely incorrect. You absolutely can.”

Rubin argues that many other large commercial spaces that are not being used can be repurposed into affordable housing and he has been doing it for years. First in his native South Africa, where he converted office buildings into housing in Johannesburg. He said that he struggled to find investors for Repvblik for a few years but that is changing. The company now has 10 additional repurposing projects in the works.

Rubin sees his model as something that can be used to create housing for the homeless. While cities have been reticent to consider doing this type of construction in the past, the pandemic has pushed them to consider new options to get people off the streets.

What are his plans for the future? Rubin said that they are working on creating 2,000 apartments now but he hopes to create 20,000 apartments in the next five years. But he is far from alone. In July 2020, US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson argued that empty commercial space could be used to address the country’s affordable housing shortage according to Fox Business.

“That’s going to free up a lot of commercial space, which can be converted to affordable housing to take some of the pressure off,” Carson told Fox Business. “We are very much looking at that and looking at ways to be able to facilitate that transformation.” To date there has been no federal initiative to implement this.

In a time, when poor people are facing evictions and homelessness, more has to be done. This model of repurposing existing unused buildings can be used almost anywhere to build affordable housing for the people who need it the most. Giving someone shelter is one of the kindest things people can do.

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