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Where San Francisco can build 70,000 new homes

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Hint: Where is there nothing right now?

San Francisco is one of the most densely populated cities in America. But, like your packed 8:00 a.m. BART train, there is yet room for a few more, if we want to jostle things around a bit.

Business consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a report this week with the lofty title “Closing California’s Housing Gap.” Among some bits of advice about streamlining procedure, McKinsey points out that we could add thousands of new units just by utilizing the zoning we already have.

According to the Planning Department, the city has 373 completely vacant parcels zoned for multi-family use. McKinsey found that’s enough to yield 4,500 units of housing if we built each of them to capacity.

That’s not a huge number, but considering that the city only has about 11,000 new units under construction right now it’s not insignificant either.

(Note that a few of these parcels are in places like the Hunters Point shipyard, which the city does intend to develop.)

But the big fish in this case is plots that are built to less than their zoning: If we made the most out of every multi-family property in the city, it could yield 70,000 units. Mind you, we’re only building about 42,000 new homes over the next 26 years as it is.

Naturally, the naysayers will point out that this would mean redeveloping those parcels, possibly at the expensive of current tenants. And then we’d also have to worry about things like transit in those neighborhoods, which is taxed as it is.

And the naysayers would have a point. An ideal plan would probably not mean building every one of those lots to their 70K home capacity (tempting though it may be).

It’s still intriguing to consider that there is room for it all, though. Just like on BART, don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t anywhere to go.