San Francisco wants to repurpose vacant storefronts into spaces for COVID-19 services

San Francisco is seeing an increase in vacant businesses citywide, and are now considering a plan to repopulate those storefronts and keep them active. 

Vacant storefronts were a problem before the pandemic. Now the city is looking at providing COVID-related services in those vacant spaces. 

San Francisco has been struggling with vacant storefronts for years, and in March approved a plan to tax building owners who let storefronts sit empty. With the pandemic, that tax has been put on hold until 2022, but Supervisor Hillary Ronen is still working to keep those storefronts occupied.
Paul Monge Barragan works in the supervisors' office and says their plan originally called for the spaces to be used to temporarily host nonprofits or artists, now the coronavirus has changed all that. 

"This issue wasn't new to San Francisco, but under the present circumstances with COVID and this global pandemic we're seeing an expansion and an increase in storefront vacancies," said Monge Barragan.
The plan was modified just this week and submitted to the Board of Supervisor Land Use and Transportation Committee, the idea would be to use those vacant storefronts to bring COVID-19 services to the communities that need them the most. 

"We expanded the scope of the legislation to facilitate the use of vacant storefronts specifically for COVID recovery and relief efforts, and that can encompass everything from food distribution to accessing restroom and showering facilities to pop up testing clinics," said Barragan.

Joaquin Torres from the Department of Economic And Workplace Development says keeping the city's commercial corridors active and vibrant will be critical to helping the city economically through the pandemic and when it is over. That means making sure those commercial corridors are active, thriving, and inviting. 

"It's a concern for people. People want to see community activation in their neighborhoods, and you know just from the facts of your own experience walking down a street and something is vacant and inactive it connotates a negative reaction," said Torres.

The recent changes to the supervisor's plan are set to be considered by the committee next week, the full board is expected to vote on allowing those vacant storefronts to be filled next month.