California wants to convert empty malls into housing

Bill aims to bypass local zoning laws in order to address affordability crisis

The bill would allow developers to build homes on commercial sites. (Getty)
The bill would allow developers to build homes on commercial sites. (Getty)

California lawmakers are looking to turn abandoned retail and shopping malls into new housing, in a creative effort to solve the state’s ballooning housing crisis.

The state Senate last week approved the bill, which would allow developers to build homes on commercial sites without rezoning the property, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. Anna Caballero, who authored the SB 6 bill, said the legislation aims to give “maximum flexibility to local government,” according to the report. Some local leaders oppose the bill, arguing it would limit the ability and authority of local governments to reject such projects.

The state Senate is also evaluating a bill from Los Angeles-area state Sen. Anthony Portantino that would pay local governments to change zoning and allow developers to build affordable housing on commercial sites.

The two bills aim to bypass local zoning laws, which make it difficult for developers to change the zoning on commercial properties, including vacant malls and large retail stores.

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If the legislation passes, California is expected to be the first state to allow developers to build multifamily housing projects on commercial sites statewide, according to Eric Phillips, the vice president of policy and legislation for the American Planning Association’s California chapter.

California, suffering from a severe housing shortage, needs to build around 180,000 housing units per year to meet projected needs, according to estimates from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Some developers in California have already proposed building homes on empty retail lots. In San Francisco, Brookfield proposed a 2,900-unit development around a mall that has lost a number of tenants in recent years.

SB 6 will now go to the state Assembly for a vote. Last year, a similar bill that would have allowed for residential developments to be built on commercially zoned land died in committee.

[AP] — Isabella Farr