Want to live at a mall? San Diego City Council OKs apartments built at shopping centers

The company that owns the Fashion Valley Mall in Mission Valley already announced a goal in May to build more than 800 apartments to replace JC Penney

NBC Universal, Inc.

The San Diego City Council voted Monday to allow large retail centers to be used as residential developments — a change that paves the way for more apartments to be built in shopping malls.

The measure was one of 99 that the City Council approved unanimously as part of its annual update to the Land Development Codes.

The new policy allows for the primary use of retail spaces of more than 500,000 square feet to be residential.

The company that owns the Fashion Valley Mall in Mission Valley already announced a goal in May to build more than 800 apartments to replace JC Penney. These kinds of developments come as the San Diego area looks for new ways to address its housing crisis.

“People desperately need housing today and if there's an opportunity where there's a mall, I think it's great — it's a win win,” said Lori Pfeiler, president and CEO of the Building Industry Association of San Diego, a housing advocacy group.

“We all see that times are changing and commercial spaces that we have are not fully used,” Pfeiler said. “But we also know we have a huge crisis, we need more housing, and so what better solution than to put housing where malls are, or lightly-used commercial spaces are?"

Pfeiler said San Diego County is 160,000 homes short of where it needs to be. She added that around 10,000 housing units are built in the San Diego area each year, but the region needs to build 20,000 each year to meet demand.

“That means you need to build as much housing as you can, families need it now and we're not even bringing people into San Diego County. This is for the people that are already living here,” she said.

Pfeiler said adding housing in places like malls is a step in the right direction, because they are often centrally located, already developed in some form, and can revitalize underutilized spaces. She said any addition of housing also helps address affordability across the board.

“When you have a short of supply, the prices go up and so housing is so unaffordable in San Diego County, and the only way to deal with that and address that issue is to build a better supply of housing,” Pfeiler said.

“We're slowly chipping away at this problem,” said Ricardo Flores, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation San Diego, which works to finance affordable housing developments.

“We're not really providing any large scale change that's going to fundamentally change because, again, you only have so many malls. And so how many malls are you going to build housing on before you say, hey, there's no more mall space to put people?” Flores said.

“We all can name the malls in San Diego,” Flores continued. “We know the malls, we know how big they are, so this is a drop in the bucket.”

Flores said 81% of San Diego is zoned for single-family use, which he said makes the housing landscape more difficult.

“The need and the desire is so great that we're now putting people at malls to live indefinitely because we refuse to change the footprint of the rest of our city,” he said.

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