SF to explore taxing property owners who keep buildings, units vacant

City officials have started to more seriously discuss imposing a tax on vacancies.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin requested the City Attorney’s Office on Tuesday “to explore legislation that would allow the city and county San Francisco to impose a vacancy tax on property owners to help mitigate the impacts of the widespread practice of warehousing valuable residential and commercial units.”

He said, “I continue to receive emails and requests from constituents to address the overwhelming number of vacancies both commercial and residential that continue to contribute to our housing crisis as well as the displacement and struggles of our small businesses.”

The issue most recently came up at City Hall last month when the Planning Commission discussed a report on San Francisco’s housing supply.

The commissioners said there was a lack of city data on the number of units sitting vacant, but worried that vacancies were contributing to the shortage of housing in The City.

One commissioner suggested that San Francisco explore a vacancy tax similar to one recently adopted in Vancouver.

At the time, Commissioner Kathrin Moore, who lives in the northeast part of The City, said vacant units appear on the rise.

“I walk my neighborhood frequently,” Moore said, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner. “On the outside, they all look very nice but there is nobody home.”

In 2014, pro-development group SPUR analyzed federal census data and determined there were 30,000 vacant units, which included 8,900 units in the process of being rented, 2,400 ownership units in the process being sold or sold and not yet occupied, vacation or seasonal use at about 9,100 units, and 9,700 units not in any of those categories.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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