Press Release

Press Release: Number of Vacant Homes in SF Climbs by 52% in Two Years

From Supervisor Dean Preston:

Vacant homes in San Francisco have skyrocketed from approximately 40,000 in 2019 to more than 60,000 in 2021, a 52 percent increase in just two years, according to a report released today by the City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst. An estimated 15% of all homes in San Francisco are empty, by far the highest rate among major cities in the country, the report found.

“In a city where the cost of housing is out of reach for most working people, and with thousands of homeless people living on our streets, it is immoral and inhumane to have tens of thousands of homes sitting empty,” said Supervisor Preston. “The dramatic increase in just two years shows the dire need for policy intervention to turn these empty units into places where people can live.”

In addition to having the highest overall residential vacancy rate of comparable U.S. cities, San Francisco also has the highest share of units that are vacant for seasonal, recreational or occasional use – more than 10,000 homes – a category that includes vacation homes and pied-a-terres, according to the report.

Compared to a January 2022 BLA report that analyzed 2019 data, the updated report published today found the single largest increase in units that are “For Rent” but remain vacant, a staggering 142% increase in just two years.

“This data tells us that landlords are holding out on renting their units, waiting for a market rebound so they can charge more in rent,” Preston said. “We need to incentivize them to get their units back on the market and provide housing to San Franciscans in need.”

The report noted policy interventions that could help reduce the number of vacant units in San Francisco, and that “[c]hief among those was a tax on vacant units as had been adopted in Vancouver, British Columbia and Washington, D.C.”

This November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to adopt an Empty Homes Tax. The proposed law will tax owners of buildings of three units or more, where a residential unit has been vacant for more than six months in a given year. The tax rate is higher for larger units, and it increases the longer a home is kept vacant.

The city’s latest point-in-time count shows 4,397 unsheltered homeless people living on the streets. The data presented today shows 61,473 empty homes in San Francisco. “It is devastating to realize that for every person sleeping on the streets tonight, there are 14 vacant homes in our City,” Preston said.

The BLA report can be accessed here:

6 replies »

  1. M is for misleading! An analysis of Prop. M by the City Controller’s Office, released in late September, found that the measure would apply to about 4,000 units, but it would only likely compel 250 vacant units back to the market.” Preston has consistently voted down new housing developments and now he wants to tax private property owners. His data doesn’t cite six month vacancies, half of the properties counted are vacant for rent or for sale but not yet occupied. Many of the “ other vacant “ homes in the survey are occupied by extended family groups ( parents & children, etc.) who legitimately share a building. This legislation includes every condo in any building of over 2 units. If Prop M passes, the Board of Supervisors will have the power to change ( increase) the amount of the tax, to change the properties affected ( duplexes and SFH have been stated as next targets) and to change the definition of vacancy. Leave your home for a few months for work, for vacation, for family reasons and you may also be taxed! Vote No on Prop M, this is dangerous government overreach.


  2. “An analysis of Prop. M by the City Controller’s Office, released in late September, found that the measure would apply to about 4,000 units, but it would only likely compel 250 vacant units back to the market.” Preston has consistently vetoed new housing developments in SF and now he wants to appropriate private property. Half of the units in this survey are vacant for rent or for sale, but not yet occupied, for a short window of time, not for 6 months. Many of the other “ vacant “ units are legitimately occupied full time by extended family members living in different units under one roof. This tax will apply to condos in buildings larger than 2 units total. This legislation can be completely changed by the Board of Supervisors if it passes, “ without a vote if the people.” The tax will surely be increased, duplexes and single family homes will be added later, and the number of days vacant needed to trigger the tax will be reduced. There are no exceptions for work, for family illness, or other reasons a person may need to temporarily leave their home.


    • @ Karen R.S. In addition to all of your important comments, the figures in the above article describe a pandemic situation, when people’s moving and housing patterns weren’t at the usual baseline. The number of “vacancies” in a large city emptied by an epidemic cannot be counted as a permanent state of that city. Many cities have rebounded from being emptied during the epidemic – San Francisco may be having a greater difficulty restoring normality due to persistent city mismanagement, such as lack of effective use of the $14 billion annual city budget ($680 million of that for the homeless, another $210 million for affordable housing), and due to political climate exemplified by Prop M which is calculated to drive home owners/ taxpayers out of the city, replacing them with a demographic that is dependent on social assistance. Homelessness is a problem unrelated to any vacant homes (but rather very related to drug addiction and severe mental illness), which problem cannot be solved by severe penalties for owning property in SF. It can, however, be solved by building residential psychiatric and rehab facilities, paid for from the $680,000,000 of SF city budget allocated every year to eradication of homelessness.


  3. Although I think it is good to tax out of state management ownership firms that sit on vacant properties as an asset, I also think that the way this proposition is written and structured won’t effectively achieve that end. Having the city buy properties and selling it at cost to low-income families would more effective. Or the tax structure could be more specific as to type of property ownership.

    I also wonder how many units are on the airnb marketplace that could become rental units. Some of the airnb units are effectively operating as hotels, putting stress on the shrinking rental market. The airnb issue isn’t addressed by this proposition either.


  4. You know what is an OVEREARCH is Dean Preston issuing a “Press Release” to a neighborhood paper falsifying the facts so that the legislation that he has drafted and advocated himself gets spread around in an area of PRIVATE PROPERTY where people have a right to use the property that they own in the manner they see fit and want to use it. Dean Preston is falsifying the facts with the number of units that he claims is vacant and now that has increased up to 52%! Watch out tenants: You are next. If you have a roommate who moves out and you decide to wait it out until a person you like and choose to move in, Dean Preston is going to start taking empty rooms in half occupied apartments and taxing them unless you allow some zombie homeless thug that has received his free injections and drugs to live there. If you vote YES to M, then you can bet that THE CITY will be taking over empty rooms, empty garages and removing the rights of both property owners and tenants alike so that Dean Preston get the people off the street and into your home!!


    • YES! Exactly right, Prop M is a slippery slope! Also likely a violation of our constitutional rights, under the 5th amendment; citizens are protected from the “ taking “ of their private property, by force, or “ constructive taking “ by government legislation such as this.


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