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61,000 houses are empty in San Francisco: report

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Every night in San Francisco, more than 4,000 people sleep on the streets without any form of shelter. In the same city, tens of thousands of homes are vacant without a single person sleeping inside.

“It is devastating to realize that for every person sleeping on the streets tonight, there are 14 vacant homes in our city,” county supervisor Dean Preston said.

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A new report released Thursday by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst Office revealed that a staggering 61,473 homes were vacant in San Francisco in 2021. The number of vacant homes skyrocketed from 40,000 in 2019 to over 60,000 in 2021 — a 52 percent increase in just two years, according to the report.

That means that an estimated 15 percent of all homes in San Francisco are empty, by far the highest rate among major cities in the country, the report found.

“In a city where the cost of housing is out of reach for most working people, and with thousands of homeless people living on our streets, it is immoral and inhumane to have tens of thousands of homes sitting empty,” said Preston. “The dramatic increase in just two years shows the dire need for policy intervention to turn these empty units into places where people can live.”

(Data courtesy the SF Budget and Legislative Analyst Office)

In addition to having the highest overall residential vacancy rate, San Francisco also has the highest share of units that are vacant for seasonal, recreational or occasional use — more than 10,000 homes – such as vacation homes.

Homes that are “For Rent” but still remain vacant increased by 142% in just two years. “This data tells us that landlords are holding out on renting their units, waiting for a market rebound so they can charge more in rent,” Preston said. “We need to incentivize them to get their units back on the market and provide housing to San Franciscans in need.”

Meanwhile, 7,754 people can’t afford rent. The city’s most recent homeless census found 4,397 San Franciscans are living on the streets and 3,357 are sleeping in shelters.

The report noted policy interventions that could help reduce the number of vacant units in San Francisco, such as a tax on vacant units.

This November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to adopt an Empty Homes Tax. The proposed law will tax owners of buildings of three units or more, where a residential unit has been vacant for more than six months in a given year. The tax rate is higher for larger units, and it increases the longer a home is kept vacant.

This decaying, 122-year-old Victorian marketed as “the worst house on the best block” of San Francisco sold in 2022 for nearly $2 million — an eye-catching price that the realtor said was the outcome of overbidding in an auction. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The report’s authors wrote, “While new housing supply can be a primary contributor to
affordability … large numbers of vacant units in cities with existing housing shortages can also impact affordability by further restricting supply. Some units may be vacant due to owner preferences and actions that are inconsistent with policy goals of maximizing the City’s housing stock for residents.”

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