How bad is Bay Area housing? Malls are building housing in former retail spaces – Orange County Register

Taking the traditional shopping trip to a whole new level, Bay Area residents aren’t going to malls just to buy shoes anymore — instead, they’re moving in.

In an attempt to draw new crowds, a growing number of malls are building housing amid their movie theaters and Abercrombie & Fitch stores. It’s a solution intended to keep malls relevant as many retailers struggle, and one experts say may play a role in easing the region’s housing shortage.

“It’s pretty depressing when you see a lot of these dead malls and desperate malls,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture. “To me, it’s just a fantastic opportunity for us to now address the 21st century challenges that those properties were never designed for.”

In the Bay Area, housing is at the forefront of that list of challenges. The option isn’t only for dead malls — newer shopping centers that have embraced residential construction include trendy Santana Row in San Jose and Bay Street in Emeryville, both offering modern apartments and condos above bustling retail stores.

More are in the pipeline. Developers who bought Richmond’s struggling Hilltop Mall last summer have the city’s OK to erect up to about 10,000 residential units there. Owners of the dead Vallco Mall in Cupertino are considering using housing to revamp the property. And down south, mall giant Westfield — owner of Valley Fair in Santa Clara — plans to open its first residential building in San Diego in 2019, followed in 2035 by a mixed-use development at a defunct Los Angeles mall.

A flock of seagulls use the outer parking area as a resting spot at Hilltop Mall in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. While some indoor malls are booming, like Valley Fair in San Jose, many are struggling. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

The heyday of the traditional American mall is long gone, and many of these shopping relics have been left to flounder under the weight of shuttered Sears, JCPenney and Macy’s department stores, and oceans of empty parking lots. But these malls often make prime targets for housing developments — they tend to be located in convenient, transit-accessible areas but aren’t close enough to residential neighborhoods to stoke NIMBY complaints, said urban development expert Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of “The New Urban Crisis.”

And they’re increasingly empty. As many as a…

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