What do you think when you look at an old strip mall? Planning experts look at them and think, ‘there could be a lot of housing here.’

There are more than 3,000 strip malls — roughly 14 square miles of them — across Greater Boston and many are “underutilized, underperforming or obsolete,” according to a Metropolitan Area Planning Council study, which found they’d be ideal for helping solve the region’s housing crisis.

The council estimates that Eastern Massachusetts alone will need roughly 140,000 new multifamily housing units by 2030. If only 10% of those old malls were rebuilt to add housing, 125,000 units could be created, according to the report.

While any kind of new housing development brings out local opponents, many communities in Greater Boston, like Framingham and Hanover, are redeveloping their malls to add housing. Woburn’s planning director Tina Cassidy said a redevelopment in 2019 brought their dying strip mall back to life.

“It is a thriving, important place now where before it was just something many people just drove past,” Cassidy said.

The transformation of Woburn Mall into Woburn Village added 325 apartments, 25% of which are affordable units. The report said if all the developments required some affordability, more than 25,000 affordable units could be created.

Reusing commercial sites rather than clearing new land for housing is better for the environment, the report notes, and could house those who otherwise might not be able to afford to stay in an area of suburban single family homes.

Creating housing at the mall also reduces reliance on cars, boosts local business and could generate an estimated $481 million in extra tax revenue for the municipality.

And in the future, clusters of redeveloped strip malls could be linked into walkable neighborhoods.

A small sign planted in a grass strip along a roadway says "Move In Today"
Sign near Hanover Crossing Residences, apartments built at the site of the now redeveloped former Hanover mall in Hanover, Mass.
Liz Neisloss GBH News

The convenience of being able to walk to the supermarket and a range of restaurants is one of the perks of living at the strip mall for Daniel Sullivan, an apartment resident at the Avalon Woburn apartments at Woburn Village.

“I think it’s the ideal situation, honestly for an apartment complex because I have friends who live in other apartment complexes and they’re not near anything,” said Sullivan.

Chris Kuschel, co-author of the report said there’s now more demand for the type of multifamily housing that would be built at malls than for single family homes.

“Our studies show that there’s more demand for this at this point, that there’s very high demand,” said Kuschel, “and if you build it, people will come.”