As new apartment building starts slow, commercial-to-residential apartments conversions are picking up steam as they offer renters affordability and style.

As new apartment construction slows to five-year lows, renters are finding their havens in converted buildings that once served as chocolate factories, churches, courthouses, schools and even funeral homes. According to RENTCafé’s latest market analysis, commercial-to-residential conversions are at an all-time high in the United States.

The U.S. has its fair share of beautiful old buildings — many of them historical — that are often underused or even abandoned,” RENTCafé researcher Alexandra Ciuntu explained in the report. “But, through adaptive reuse, they can be repurposed and converted to residential use.”

“This trend took off in [the] last decade when 778 old buildings were transitioned into apartment communities,” Ciuntu added. “In total, 1,876 such buildings have been converted into apartments since the 1950s.”

Factories are a favorite amongst developers, with 442 factories being converted into apartments since the 1950s. More than 100 of those conversions happened in the 2000s, as mills, foundries, breweries, and manufacturers began closing at a quicker rate. Hotels (434), office buildings (313) and schools (199) were other developer favorites, while retail (64), financial (49) and military (24) were the least common.

“Manufacturing structures, foundries, mills and even vintage breweries incorporate the open space floor plan that both developers and residents so crave,” the report read. “With 434 apartment buildings created, hotels are the second-most popular building type to be turned into residential living.”

“In fact, hotel-to-apartment conversions dominated the second half of the last century, increasing from 13 in the 1950s to 65 in the 1990s,” it continued. “One reason for this uptick is the easy transition from hotel rooms to apartments and the conversion from reception to concierge.”

In addition to offering a unique living experience, converted buildings are often more affordable than other apartment options. Nearly two-thirds of converted apartment buildings are priced for middle-income (42 percent) and low-income (23 percent) renters.

Affordable housing developers tend to favor old hotels and medical buildings, with 86 percent of converted hotels and 79 percent of converted medical buildings being exclusively used as affordable housing.

“One example is Eastman Gardens in Rochester, New York, which was previously The Eastman Dental Dispensary when it was built in 1917,” the report read. “After the building was left vacant for years, tenants can now enjoy the replicated murals and crafty woodwork in one of Rochester’s most beautifully restored buildings that now serves as an affordable senior living apartment community.”

Credit: RENTCafé

Chicago (91), Philadelphia (85), Los Angeles (74), New York City (73) and St. Louis (62) have the highest share of converted apartment buildings with old hotels and factories being the most popular options.

“In terms of repurposed apartment buildings, Chicago holds the top spot nationally with 91,” the report said. “Among them are historical staples like the Victorian-era Pine Grove Manor or the classically revived The Flamingo by Lake Michigan, both of which were previously hotels.”

“Cultural hubs LA and NYC are practically tied in third and fourth place, with 74 and 73 conversions each, respectively,” it continued. “In these cross-country metros, iconic repurposed structures like LA’s 1889 Boyle Hotel represents the city’s turn-of-the-century transition, while NYC’s Westbeth Artists’ Housing has been a symbol for supporting struggling artists for almost two centuries.”

The most famous and unique converted buildings include an abandoned chocolate factory in Philadelphia, a former New Orleans funeral home, a 91-year-old Oakland church, and an old courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Some conversion projects find residential potential in the most unusual buildings — be it an ex-funeral home or a Golden Era bomb shelter,” the report concluded. “But, beyond the squeaky hinges and creaking floorboards, a new home is just waiting to rise from the dust — whether it’s in the form of a former courthouse or a repurposed chocolate factory.”

Email Marian McPherson

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