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Converting commercial buildings could solve the housing crisis, experts say



Turning abandoned office buildings into residential apartments could be a solution to Australia's housing crisis, experts say.

A $125-million renovation has turned the old Australian Unity Insurance headquarters in Melbourne into a 15-story retirement village, inspiring builders in Melbourne and Sydney to replicate the idea.

Each two-bedroom assisted living apartment in the former office building is expected to fetch between $615,000 to $2 million.

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Kath Evens from Property Council Australia said the development would get builders and local councils in other states to think outside of the box.

"There's definitely going to be interest from current owners of those properties to think about how they can be used for other purposes," she said.

"This presents a real opportunity, and will enable us to solve a whole lot of problems."

There are a number of office buildings in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland that have the potential to be turned into residential properties.

Almost 600 new apartments and 158 hotel rooms are expected to be green-lit at 338 Pitt Street, Sydney, bringing more residential properties to the city.

The build is expected to cost around $6300 per square metre.

In comparison, tearing the building down and starting from scratch would cost $6800 per square metre.

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The sun rises over the Sydney skyline.

There is also plenty of scope for more offices to be turned into homes outside of the CBD, with commercial vacancy rates the highest in Crows Nest, St Leonards, North Sydney and Parramatta.

"Bringing back residential uses and injecting that mixed vibrancy into our cities can only be a good thing," architect Jessica Lee told 9News.

Brisbane's office vacancy rates are at 11.6 per cent in the CBD.

But the Queensland government's framework amendments to address the housing supply crisis could make it slightly more difficult for developers to convert commercial buildings to residential properties. 

"Ensuring that it does meet the zoning requirement that can be quite a costly and time-consuming process also," Antonia Mercorella from the Real Estate Institute of Queensland said.

Some commercial buildings have already been converted to living apartments in Teneriffe, Brisbane.

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