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

Black and white Rideshare Pick-Up Zone sign

The Slow Death of Ride Sharing

From the beginning, TNCs like Lyft and Uber touted shared rides as their key product. Now, Lyft is ending the practice.

June 1, 2023 - Human Transit

Urban sidewalk shaded by large mature trees

Cool Walkability Planning

Shadeways (covered sidewalks) and pedways (enclosed, climate controlled walkways) can provide comfortable walkability in hot climates. The Cool Walkshed Index can help plan these facilities.

June 1, 2023 - Todd Litman

Traffic on the 405 interstate freeway through the Sepulveda Pass at Getty Center Drive in Los Angeles, California

Congestion Pricing Could Be Coming to L.A.

The infamously car-centric city is weighing a proposed congestion pricing pilot program to reduce traffic and encourage public transit use.

May 30, 2023 - Los Angeles Times

"Welcome to Texas" road sign with Texas flag and "Drive Friendly - the Texas way" slogan

Report: Austin’s State Roads Deadlier Than City Roads

Traffic fatalities and serious injuries grew on state-owned roads in the Texas capital, even as city-owned streets saw death rates plateau.

9 minutes ago - Smart Cities Dive

View from lakeside with green grass and pink blooming flowers

Who Benefits Most from Land Conservation Efforts?

A new study estimates that recent land conservation generated $9.8 billion in wealth nationally through the housing market and that wealthier and White households benefited disproportionately.

1 hour ago - PNAS

Close-up of black parking meter with blurred street in background

Richmond Repeals Parking Minimums, Encourages Off-Street Parking and Transit

The Virginia city is replete with underused off-street parking lots, which city councilors hope to make available for parking at more times while encouraging transit use.

2 hours ago - Next City

Project Manager III

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

UDO Transportation Planner

City of Charlotte - Charlotte Area Transit

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.