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    HomeBusinessDowntown D.C. faces challenge as remote work demand persists, poll finds

    Downtown D.C. faces challenge as remote work demand persists, poll finds

    D.C.-area leaders have tried desperately to lure teleworking employees back into their offices, hoping to restore the vibrancy and generous tax revenue previously offered by buzzy commercial and downtown corridors that largely emptied during the pandemic. But a large majority of people in the region with remote-capable jobs say they would prefer to mostly work from home if offered the choice, a Washington Post-Schar School poll finds.

    Nearly half (47 percent) of Washington-area workers say they have jobs with responsibilities that can be done from home, according to the poll. Among them, 37 percent work exclusively from home, 13 percent are fully on-site and 48 percent have a hybrid arrangement. The survey suggests there is little desire among them to commute to the office more often, however; two-thirds of those with remote-capable jobs say they would prefer to work from home a majority of the time, including 38 percent who say they would like to work from home all of the time.

    The Post-Schar School poll of a random sample of more than 1,600 D.C., Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland residents illustrates the sea change in remote work habits spurred by the pandemic: Just 19 percent of remote-capable workers say they commute to work four or more days per week, compared with 70 percent who report doing this before the pandemic.

    Read the D.C. area poll results

    Anxiety related to whether office occupancy rates will return to pre-pandemic levels has been acute in the District, where 58 percent of remote-capable workers say they prefer to work from home most or all of the time. Tax revenue brought in from large office properties downtown — which made up nearly 9 percent of the city’s total revenue last year — plummeted as buildings emptied during the pandemic, resulting in millions of square feet of vacant office space.

    The city’s chief financial officer amplified those concerns in February when he revised the city’s projected revenue downward by a total of nearly $500 million between fiscal 2024 and 2026, telling top city leaders that remote work posed a “serious long-term risk to the District’s economy and tax base.”

    Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has made the restoration of downtown a priority of her third term, and her administration has thrown the kitchen sink at bucking negative trends. Bowser’s five-year “Comeback Plan” announced earlier this year proposes adding 15,000 new residents there. Her budget proposal last month included several initiatives to advance that goal, including a significant boost in fiscal 2028 to the city’s tax abatement for office-to-residential development projects.

    At a news conference Wednesday that focused on efforts to draw more visitors to D.C., Bowser and other city officials announced a forthcoming “downtown action plan,” that will be developed with the DowntownDC and Golden Triangle business improvement districts to “focus on how we enliven public spaces like streets and parks all over downtown.”

    “We might have to change some of our beautiful spaces so that we’re making the most of them. If we have fewer employees, then we want to have more visitors; if we have fewer work events, then we want more events where people are gathering and having festivals,” Bowser said. “All of those things are on our mind.”

    Downtown D.C.’s struggles mount as many workers remain remote

    But remote workers across the region say it would be difficult to adjust their routines.

    Greg Lozier, who does campaign-related work and lives near Rockville, started his job near Capitol Hill in 2021, coming in two days per week. But his employer granted him and his colleagues more flexibility when coronavirus cases began to surge that year. Now, Lozier says, he comes into the office about two times per month.

    What if he was instructed to come back into the office full time?

    “That would not work for me. My wife and I are both working hybrid and we have two small children — but she has to go in much more frequently,” Lozier said. “So I’m usually the one who picks the kids up from school and day care, and I do most of the cooking around the house. It’s easier when you’re working from home.”

    The District’s push to populate downtown is further complicated by the fact that a quarter of the city’s workforce is made up of federal government employees. Bowser has repeatedly urged the Biden administration to push more federal workers to come back to their offices or to potentially transfer those properties to the city. On Wednesday, Bowser said the city is “still working” with the federal government to understand their plans for remote work, though she did not offer specifics.

    But the Post-Schar poll indicates that the region’s federal workers are not eager to return in person, with 80 percent of remote-capable federal workers saying they would like to work from home most or all of the time, including 59 percent who say they prefer to be completely remote. Among the region’s remote-capable workers who are not employed by the federal government, a smaller 33 percent say they want to work from home most of the time.

    Remote-capable federal workers commute 1.5 days per week on average, similar to 1.8 days for nonfederal workers, according to the poll.

    Violence, downtown, Congress: Obstacles grow in Bowser’s third term

    Angela Barnes, a federal government employee who also works downtown, said that a contractual agreement that allows her to work twice per week from her home in Prince George’s County will expire next month. At that point, the 55-year-old said, she will be expected to return full time.

    Barnes said she isn’t too worried about the change because she does not have young children and needs a steady job. But if she had a choice, she’d rather work from home on a permanent basis, with the option to commute as she pleases.

    “It’s more convenient for me. I spend less money, I put fewer miles in my car, and the less time I spend traveling to and from home, the more time I can spend doing work,” she added.

    To encourage more people downtown, Barnes said city leaders should look to make further gains in reducing homelessness and crime, issues Barnes said are often in the front of her mind when she travels to the District.

    “I’ve heard about the mayor complaining that the offices are not being occupied and businesses not making the revenue they used to. That’s not my problem,” Barnes said. “They should be concerned about the people who need help.”

    As D.C. leaders explore how to best retain and attract new residents and families, a key facet of the city’s pandemic recovery, the Post-Schar School survey also offers a glimpse into how area residents perceive some of the District’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, 5 percent of the region’s residents say D.C. public schools are the best in the region, compared with 25 percent who say this about Suburban Maryland and 58 percent for Northern Virginia.

    Compared with neighboring counties, 13 percent say D.C. has the best shopping options — the lowest among the three jurisdictions. And for perceptions about local crime — 55 percent say the problem of crime in the District is “very” or “extremely” serious — and more people in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs say they feel safe in their neighborhoods than District residents.

    Where are the worst drivers, best restaurants in the D.C. area? The poll data are in.

    It might not help that drivers in D.C. get the worst rap across the region, too, according to the poll.

    But there is a silver lining: Nearly 6 in 10 area residents say D.C. offers the best restaurants — giving credence to the city’s efforts to lure newcomers with its diverse array of food options.

    The poll was conducted by The Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government between Feb. 17 and 27 among a random sample of 1,668 Washington-area residents reached on cellphones and landlines. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.



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