San Diego Struggles With Affordable Housing

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A San Diego City Council committee on Wednesday was briefed on the thousands of affordable housing units set to turn market rate in the next five years, which could exacerbate the homelessness crisis if not mitigated.

The Smart Growth and Land Use Committee heard from Stephen Russell with the San Diego Housing Federation, who told the committee there is a shortfall of 142,000 affordable housing units for low-income renters in San Diego, a city of 1.4 million.

Assuming 2½ people per dwelling unit, that’s one-fourth of San Diego’s population.

San Diego lost more than 1,200 subsidized units from 2000 to 2017, when they turned market rate after federal subsidies expired.

That number is to double in the next five years, with 2,300 units at risk of converting to market rate, Russell said.

Russell suggested San Diego designate a “preservation coordinator” to monitor units set to turn market rate and notify the city and residents of options while working with property owners to preserve affordable units.

The average rent in San Diego is $2,028, according to, which tracks California rents. The average $2,028 rental unit is 820 square feet, according to Rentcafe. The average two-bedroom apartment rents for $2,190, and a three-bedroom goes for $2,773.

With the median income for a family of four in San Diego $63,400, according to the San Diego Association of Governments, that family would have to spend 41 percent of its income on rent, before utilities.

Affordable housing as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is calculated by taking 80 percent of an area’s median income. For a San Diego family of four, that would come to about $1,500 a month — the average rent on a studio apartment of 455 square feet — or a house costing less than $225,000 — less than half the median home price $483,000. To afford such a house a family would need an annual income of $98,500, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

State Treasurer John Chiang warned in November that the Republican tax plan ushered in by President Donald Trump would gut programs used to create 20,000 affordable homes for low-income residents of California. Preserving existing affordable homes is also a policy priority in the Legislature’s housing program.

While speakers at the packed council chambers had different ideas on how to maintain the affordable housing supply, the consensus was that a two-pronged approach is needed: building new units, while maintaining the present supply of subsidized housing.

Many speakers recounted receiving notices from landlords seeking to terminate their leases to make way for short-term rentals, or to triple the rent.

Representatives from San Diego Tenants United suggested the council adopt an emergency rent control ordinance — always a controversial topic in real estate-mad California.

Councilman Scott Sherman said his daughter had to move out of California and his 30-year-old son needs multiple roommates to afford his rent. But he questioned whether “more government” is needed to solve the housing crisis. He cited a 2015 study by Point Loma Nazarene University which concluded that regulations have added more than 40 percent to housing prices.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said that while San Diego has been trying to resolve its housing crisis for years, state legislators have only recently begun to address the statewide problem.

“The state Legislature has a hand in this as well, and it’s like they woke up last year and there’s all these bills flying around,” Zapf said.

“This is not just a San Diego problem: It’s happening in every single city across our state. This is a problem that anyone could see it coming for years.”

Zapf also expressed concern about short-term rental units diminishing the stock of middle-class housing.

The committee will discuss the issue again at its May meeting and is to refer an actionable item for preserving affordable housing units to the full City Council sometime this summer.

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