San Francisco wants to convert defunct parking lots into housing

San Francisco's Mayor London Breed pitched a new plan Tuesday to help create more homes in the city.

The plan is called "Cars to Casas", or cars to houses. The idea is to streamline the process to take sites that originally focused on cars, like gas stations or banks, and turn the attached parking lots into high-density housing.

Housing or the lack thereof is a constant issue in San Francisco. Breed is suggesting the city build new housing on those old sites that once catered to cars. The proposed housing ordinance would ease the bureaucratic process of converting sites like gas stations or parking lots into multi-unit buildings.

"What we're doing and saying is in the entire city, where these auto-related zoning laws exist, through this legislation we're going to automatically say they are going to be automatically eligible if housing is an option and someone wants to build housing that they don't have to go through this additional layer," Breed said.

The city's planning department said the idea would update building rules that haven't been updated since the 1970s. The department said the ordinance would still require buildings to meet height bulk and set back requirements, but would allow developers to divide those into more units, and would shave years off the process to convert sites from commercial to residential usage.

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"It gets rid of this process that can take six months to 18 months," said San Francisco's Planning Director, Rich Hillis, "It also gives project sponsors more flexibility so it also allows them to do more units."

Housing advocates say in addition to creating more housing, and stabilizing rent prices, the proposal would have an added environmental benefit, by helping the city to transition sites from catering to cars and encouraging development that would rely on mass transit.

"This is literally going to be taking that car-centric infrastructure and making it easier to build the thing that we know will make our city more sustainable; that's homes," said Laura Foote from YIMBY Action.

The mayor is set to pitch her plan to the board of supervisors next Tuesday.