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Why Empty Offices Aren't Being Turned Into Housing, Despite Lengthy Vacancies

"There's a Goldilocks factor": Older offices can be too big or too small.

By Cyrus Farivar

SAN FRANCISCO — Strachan Forgan, an architect who works downtown at 255 California St., is still struck by how much street life has changed around his office building. Gone are the pre-pandemic crowds of bankers and lawyers who jammed into the famed Tadich Grill across the street from his office. In recent months in his two-block walk from the nearby train station, he said, he has frequently been verbally assaulted and physically threatened by the rising number of homeless people.

That's because even though San Francisco commercial office buildings are emptier than they have been in decades and the city is estimated to have 8,000 homeless people, it's unlikely that any of the empty offices will become homes for anyone at any economic level, even though more housing is desperately needed in general. Forgan, who both works on office-to-housing conversions and struggles to find employees who can find affordable housing to work at his firm, said it's too difficult to make happen.

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