Converting Hotels to Housing : A Q&A with Michelle Dumont

Photo Courtesy of Steinberg Hart Design and Chiara Ye Photography

 

Our founder, Amy Bradac, is a mentor in the CREW Mates mentorship program through CREW SF.  As a mentor, she was paired with a rising real estate professional, Michelle Dumont.  Michelle was a collaborator within her firm, Steinberg Hart, to put together a guide on converting hotels to housing.  We are happy to share Michelle’s insights below! You can read the whole paper here: Steinberg Hart_A Guide to Converting Hotels to Housing

What inspired Steinberg Hart to write/research about converting hotels to housing? 
In September of 2020, six months into the pandemic, David Hart, the President and CEO of Steinberg Hart put out a firmwide request asking us to come together and use our design talent to write a guide that addresses a crisis that is trifold: the nationwide shortage of affordable housing that is reaching a breaking point. This crisis is all the more acute in urban city centers where rents have continued to climb while salaries stagnate. Second, and closely related to the first, the homelessness crisis continues to ravage our country, particularly in the state of California where a quarter of the nation’s unhoused individuals live. And finally, the Coronavirus pandemic has not only exacerbated the first two issues, but it has also had a devastating impact on the hotel industry.

Do you think the travel industry and hotel occupancy will soon return to what they once were? If so, how will that affect the ability to turn hotel rooms into housing?
I absolutely believe that the travel industry and hotel occupancy will return to what they once were, and we are already starting to see the travel industry rebound as vaccination rates accelerate. It will take time, but trips to visit family and vacations are essential to almost everyone. I don’t see this having a large impact on the ability to turn hotel rooms into housing because many hotels were already under-performing or were in dire need of renovations and updates before the pandemic.

How can you use your expertise to help with both hospitality and affordable housing?
Remarkably, the pandemic has offered a unique opportunity for us to use our hospitality and housing expertise to provide assistance where needed – on one hand, providing a solution for struggling hotels, and on the other hand, creating an opportunity for cost-effective development of supportive, affordable, or attainable housing. Transforming underperforming hotels is a rapid and cost-effective way to deliver dwelling units where and when they are needed. Often, the barriers to those transformations lie in design, zoning, and code challenges – and this is squarely in our wheelhouse, particularly when it comes to housing. We have a deep understanding of both typologies, and through the conversion, reimagining, and repositioning of these existing buildings, we firmly believe that we can create a new model for addressing the affordable housing crisis.

Is there a version where the affordable housing rooms and hotel rooms could share one building, similar to the way luxury apartments are sometimes above hotel rooms?
Absolutely, in the letter that begins the guide, David Hart writes, “It may even make sense to convert only a portion of the hotel to financially stabilize the property and provide the needed housing for the community.” The guide encourages an open mind and creativity in thinking about how different properties might be the best utilized for both the owner and the community.

How can design transform these living spaces in order to enhance well-being?  
The development of this guide was rooted in a strong desire to transform hotels into homes. Not hotels to homeless housing or affordable housing, true homes that provide dignity, belonging, security, identity and joy to their residents.  Designing homes that enrich and give back to our communities is at the epicenter of our ethos at Steinberg Hart. And, study after study has proven that when people feel at home, when they feel that their place of living provides not only shelter, but dignity, we see dramatic improvement in their health and wellness. The sample unit plans illustrated in the paper are designed to the same standards of current market-rate residences. In addition,  the hotel back-of-house, management and amenity areas share the enormous potential of possible conversion into resident and public community spaces. Spaces like these can provide opportunities to strengthen the neighborhoods and the well-being of the communities where these hotels exist.

Can you tell us about the process of putting together this guide?
The process closely represented the design work we do for our clients. We started by developing a list of considerations to assist owners and developers as they evaluate the financial and market feasibility of transforming a hotel asset in whole or in part to housing.  From there, we expanded upon the primary technical aspects, including building code, entitlements and design considerations that are outlined in the writing. With this analysis, we designed sample unit plans that show how the hotel rooms are converted to residences with furniture-only and accessibility modifications. The guide concludes with two case studies, a low-rise suburban hotel and a high-rise urban hotel. With the guide in hand, cities, counties and property owners can gain a preliminary understanding of the possibilities and opportunities of converting hotels to housing. But the guide is just the beginning. Our team of housing and hospitality experts is always available to take on assessments of this kind for specific properties. As we state in the guide, each and every asset provides unique opportunities and challenges. Our hope is that as public entities, property owners, and developers begin to consider these types of conversions, we can contribute our expertise and help them to be successful in creating a new kind of housing that benefits our communities and our clients alike in the process.

Thank you Michelle Dumont for sharing your insights! 

You can find more about Michelle on her LinkedIn page.