Study warns that post-pandemic era remote work trend could see loss of Capital region downtown revenues

What will happen to downtown areas in the Capital region if people continue to work from home after the pandemic?

A study commissioned by the Greater Washington Partnership warns that this could mean some serious economic trouble for the once-bustling neighborhoods – and undeserved communities.

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The pandemic accelerated a trend that the D.C. area was already ripe for, according to the study, which was conducted by the firm Ernst and Young.

Prior to the pandemic, only 5 percent of the people employed in the D.C. region worked from home - but once the novel coronavirus arrived, that number jumped to 79% doing some work from home, and 58% working remotely full-time.

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In order to lessen the impact of the loss of people from downtown, the study suggests implementing a hybrid model – which some people who talked to FOX 5 said they would prefer.

"A hybrid of the two, I think, would be most efficient. Some things we can do better on our own. Other problems can only be solved when people sit down at the table," said John Horan.

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Researchers found that the Capital region has the nation’s second-largest pool of potential remote workers – right behind the Bay Area. Over 50 percent of the people who work in the metro D.C. area could continue to work remotely, even after herd immunity has been reached.

However, that would also mean their dollars will be spent elsewhere – outside of the downtown area.

According to the study, workers spend around $127 a week near their jobs – losing that would have a huge impact on downtown areas’ small businesses, especially minority-owned ones.

They also found that 52 percent of people of color do not have remote capable jobs, so they would not be able to benefit from working at home.

"What’s most concerning is the benefits of remote work will be felt by only select few. And we see particularly negative impacts for smaller businesses, particularly those in downtown cores, people of color, frontline workers and public transit," said Greater Washington Partnership Vice President of Inclusive Growth Francesca Ioffreda.

Transit would also likely take a hit – losing an estimated 5 percent in revenue, which could impact lower-income workers depending on mass transit.

On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she’s focused on crushing the virus, and saving as many businesses as possible.

D.C.'s economic development agency provided a statement later in the day:

As the District focuses on an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are actively engaged in efforts to understand the various possibilities for the downtown corridor and the ways we can ensure downtown, and our neighborhoods, continue to be vibrant. Those efforts include:

- Implementing Streateries and refining public spaces to support local businesses.

- Partnering with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to engage stakeholders on longstanding and emerging challenges in the central business district, such as high office vacancy rates, limited vibrancy in public spaces, and the economic impact of remote work and limited visitors during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

- Reimagining public spaces for special events, programmed activities, and possible expanded commerce, which would attract people to the downtown corridor.

- Strategizing to implement 15-minute neighborhoods, where residents can access healthy food options, childcare, and everyday retail needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home, helping small businesses and communities to thrive.

We will continue to think about successful return to work strategies, creatively attracting and retaining employers, reimaging our public spaces, and ensuring innovation in our regulatory environment so that DC will thrive beyond this pandemic.