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CA Introduces Landmark Bill to Quickly Convert Empty Downtown Office Buildings into Housing

Haney’s AB 3068 unites YIMBYs and Historical Preservationists in an unprecedented partnership to cosponsor office-to-housing conversions.

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SACRAMENTO, CA - Today, Assemblymember Matt Haney (D- San Francisco) unveiled legislation to bolster California’s downtowns by requiring cities to fast-track conversions of historic buildings into housing. The bill had brought historic preservationists and YIMBYs — two groups that are often at odds with each other over housing policy — to work together to draft and co-sponsor legislation for the first time. AB 3068 stops anti-housing, local governments from killing office to housing conversion projects by giving them automatic state approval. And puts an end to lengthy, and disingenuous local approval processes that make adaptive reuse projects too costly. AB 3068 also creates pathways to help make these conversions economically feasible, while still preserving our cities historic downtown buildings.

As California is in the midst of a generational shift in work culture, offices in places like downtown Los Angeles and the financial district in San Francisco are seeing the highest vacancy rates in 30 years. While local elected leaders have called to repurpose vacant office buildings into residential ones, there are many technical and financial challenges to renovating an existing office building in California specifically.

At the inaugural hearing of the Select Committee on Downtown Recovery last month, mayors representing the cities of San Francisco, Sacramento, Long Beach and Riverside called for legislation to ease the process of adaptive reuse projects.

“California’s downtowns are desperate for ways to inject vitality into their streetscape,” said Matt Haney, Chair of the Select Committee on Downtown Recovery. “While the demand for living downtown is at an all-time high, many urban centers simply lack the available housing. If we are serious about jump-starting the economic engine of our cities, we need to remove the red tape that makes office to housing conversions nearly impossible.”

By mandating by-right approval processes for mixed-use housing conversion projects in city centers, AB 3068 will pave the way for the construction of several thousands of new housing units.

“This bill will bring opportunities for thousands of people to live near high paying jobs and other amenities,” said Rafa Sonnenfeld, Policy Director at YIMBY Action. “California’s housing shortage is especially severe in our cities, and this bill provides an important avenue to help make sure everyone in California has a home in a neighborhood where they want to live.”

AB 3068 is cosponsored by YIMBY Action and the California Preservation Foundation for its legislative approach to converting existing office buildings into housing while retaining the physical character of California’s unique neighborhoods.

“AB 3068 offers a way to address the housing crisis and stimulate economic development in communities grappling with commercial vacancies,” said Cindy Heitzman, Executive Director of the California Preservation Foundation. “But it's more than just a piece of legislation – it's a story of people coming together to solve real-world problems. The California Preservation Foundation and YIMBY Action worked together to ensure that the unique character of our historic sites is preserved while creating more housing.”

These two groups, that have fought against each other for so long, are coming together because they know that to quickly reverse the emptying of our city cores, we need to take unprecedented action. And that’s what this bill does — it’s currently our best and only chance to quickly see empty office buildings turned into housing.

This bill will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 8th.