California looks to replace vacant brick-and-mortar retail with housing – Livabl

Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

With California real estate prices at record highs, state lawmakers are proposing new strategies to increase the limited supply of housing. 

One such measure is Senate Bill 6, which would exempt developers from going through the often arduous rezoning process if they intend to replace an underutilized office or commercial property with multi-family housing. 

The bill, known as the Neighborhood Homes Act, was authored by State Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). SB 6 passed the Senate in late May and is now with the Assembly, where it has undergone its first reading.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a wave of retail closures as lockdown restrictions limited capacity and consumers shifted to online shopping. Vacant storefronts, including big-box retailers and strip malls, could be prime areas for multi-family housing as they tend to be centrally located and offer an abundance of parking.

The proposed legislation wouldn’t force developers to prioritize housing over retail, but it would make it more challenging for local governments to reject multi-family projects planned for untenanted office or commercial sites. Opponents of SB 6 argue that local governments are best equipped to make such zoning decisions.

For a property to qualify for flexible zoning, 50 percent or more of the usable square footage would have to be