The southernmost county in California has followed the trend of other regions with strong economies such as San Francisco and San Jose where growth of business and employees moving into town has squeezed already tight housing markets, causing inflated prices.
More than 70 percent of San Diegans can’t afford to buy a house at the county’s median home cost of more than $500,000, making the region one of the least affordable markets in the country, according to the California Association of Realtors.
On Monday, the City Council approved two proposals from Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s “Housing SD” plan, including expanding housing projects eligible for accelerated permitting to spur faster construction and removing certain permitting requirements to make it easier for homeowners to build “granny flats” or companion units on their properties.
California’s housing-affordability crisis has gotten national attention recently and state legislators in Sacramento are scrambling to spur construction which has stagnated since the Great Recession: 130 measures have been introduced by legislators this year aimed at tackling the housing crisis.
At Monday’s hours-long special City Council meeting, council members heard from landlords, renters, community and union leaders and received reports from the region’s service providers working to help people get into housing.
While some speakers expressed concerns over a San Diego Union-Tribune story last year which showed the city has actually lost 10,000 affordable-housing units since 2010 – during a time when the city needs to build 39,000 housing units by 2020 according to a regional study – the two-prong concerns over affordable housing and housing affordability dominated the conversation.
Speakers wanted the city to address the growing homelessness crisis and get the 5,000-plus people on the street into affordable housing, while also working to make housing affordable and attainable for young San Diegans and students who said they’re being forced to move away from the city they love.
Faulconer addressed the City Council before the meeting got underway and told them: “People who love San Diego and want to live in San Diego should not be priced out of San Diego.”
State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Logan Heights, a former San Diego City councilman, echoed the mayor’s concerns when he cited a study from San Francisco which found people who earn $120,000 a year are considered low-income. He used the study as a cautionary tale, saying, “We don’t want that to happen here.”
Hueso also discussed “immigration” to California by out-of-towners.
“More Americans come to California than any other state. It puts a premium on housing and makes housing very expensive,” he said.
San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts told the City Council his own family benefitted from affordable housing in San Diego and he “probably wouldn’t be here were it not for the opportunities my family got.”
“I personally think this is the largest, most significant issue facing us in this state: the housing crisis,” Roberts said.
“We all play a significant role in this issue. Some would say we’re a significant part of the problem, but I’d say they can watch us get something done … I am confident we can make a difference, and I don’t mean a difference 10 years from now. I think we need to look at what we’re doing and not doing.”
Many speakers were frustrated with city leaders who’ve been talking for years about increasing affordable housing but haven’t made a dent in getting the thousands of units that have been needed for years built.
One speaker likened the City Council to a Las Vegas magician, saying: “It’s all smoke and mirrors; instead of abracadabra, we say affordable. What is affordable? When we talk about all of this affordable housing for low- and middle-income people, we don’t talk about extremely low-income, and there’s no such thing as trickle-down housing.”
A landlord who owns two apartment buildings in Los Angeles addressed what she called the “elephant in the room,” saying the City Council needed to consider rent-control measures.
Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, who proposed a housing action plan touted by many meeting attendees, said “the crisis has been boiling for many years.”
Gomez said the city needs to be more aggressive about going after state funding to spur building, using city-owned land to build affordable housing units and building as many units as possible, rather than limiting the number of units on projects.
She suggested the council needs to develop a local measure to address the housing crisis to put on the ballot for the November 2018 general election.