11,000 Housing Units Possible with S.F. Office Conversions, Study Says

A new study by SPUR and the Urban Land Institute’s San Francisco chapter estimates a specific number of apartment units that could be built from vacant office units in the city.

2 minute read

March 29, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


South of Market

The city of San Francisco recently completed a wave of office construction in its downtown. Now it needs to figure out a way to convert some of that capacity to residential use. | Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock

San Francisco is one of the prime examples of downtowns in need of reinvention from office-centric to housing-rich. As documented by recent articles shared by Planetizen, it’s not easy to convert office buildings to residential units, though there’s major potential benefit to identifying the kinds of buildings that can be converted.  

Enter a new study by SPUR and the San Francisco Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, detailed in a paywalled article by John King for the San Francisco Chronicle. The two organizations are also hosting an event to dig into the study’s findings in a sold out event on March 28.

The analysis “suggests more than 10,000 housing units could be created within the shells of older office buildings — but only if the city primes the pump by lowering fees and affordable housing requirements,” reports King.

The structures that are the most promising candidates for conversion, according to the summary, are high-rises where the upper floors are no more than 20,000 square feet, roughly equal to the towers of One Market Plaza at the foot of Market Street. There should be an ample number of elevators, and they shouldn’t be too far from the outer windows. There also should be a good mix of views.

The study also includes recommendations for how to make these units make financial sense for developers, including removing or reducing “the current standard that new housing downtown must provide 75 square feet of outdoor space for each residential unit” and removing city requirements that “21.5% of new rental housing must be reserved for lower-income residents.”

Some changes already are in the works: Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Monday, for instance, announced they’ve crafted a proposed zoning update that would loosen current requirements that all multi-family housing projects include a sizable number of two- and three-bedroom units,” reports King. “It also would allow housing above the first floor of retail buildings in the Union Square district.”

While the full study will be published later this spring, a “Summary of Findings” is already available to read online.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in The San Francisco Chronicle

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