Earlier this week, the City Council declared a continued state of emergency due to the lack of affordable housing in San Diego.

fix san diego opinion“Continued.” Somehow, despite the urgency of the situation, we are no closer to solving that shortage.

Housing advocates and business representatives have each invested a lot of money and rhetoric to bring us to Tuesday’s impasse over the now-rescinded increase to the affordable housing fee.

The good news is that, once again, all of the stakeholders have said they’re committed to working together to resolve the issue. San Diego, let’s hold them to their word this time.

Here’s what needs to happen.

The cost of producing housing has to come down.

Affordable housing advocates are missing an opportunity to create a coalition with market-rate housing providers to bring down the high cost of production. Cost reductions are key to providing both rental and homeownership options to hardworking San Diegans.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Many have suggested measures like reducing parking requirements, fee deferrals and improving the approval process. These are all important.

We can’t overlook the issue of land availability, though. We can’t keep building 3,000 homes at a time; we don’t have the land.

Instead, let’s focus on building high-quality housing in installments of 30 homes at a time. To do this, we’ll need solid community plans that clearly say what can be built, where and with conditions that preserve and enhance the community without killing economic feasibility. To date, it has taken over four years to get even a single plan completed, and now that plan is subject to a referendum. San Diego, we’ve got to reform this process.

Subsidies must increase to close the gap between the cost of housing production and a family’s ability to pay.

The business community doesn’t seem to understand a portion of the population will always need help offsetting housing costs.

Federal tax credits are available to developers to produce housing for people earning less than 60 percent of the county’s median income (a couple earning less than $37,920 per year or a family of four earning less than $47,340 per year).

Housing is generally considered affordable when a family spends no more than a third of its income for housing-related costs. One third of this income level would mean that the couple could pay approximately $1,050 per month in housing costs (rent and utilities), and a family of four approximately $1,300.

A search of recently completed buildings yielded one-bedroom apartments with an asking price around $1,800, two-bedrooms for $2,300. Regulatory relief alone can’t bring the cost of production down enough to reduce that gap. Something as radical as eliminating all city fees would still mean the two-bedroom rent on a new apartment would be affordable to fewer than half of the couples in San Diego County.

These families need some source of local public money.

Families’ earning power must increase.

Are we really OK with the fact that a couple working full-time at minimum wage jobs can only afford a rent of approximately $888, a full $500 below the average countywide rent for an apartment? Can we honestly teach our kids the importance of a strong work ethic when a full day’s work can’t even pay the rent?

Creating a skilled workforce through affordable education options is an element too often missing from our housing debates. We need to attract high-quality jobs to the region.

Our workers (and their employers) want affordable housing that’s close to their jobs, and an efficient transportation system to get between the two. When most of our skilled job opportunities exist north of the city and affordable housing options are primarily in the south, we hinder economic mobility.

We must also remember that San Diego’s tourism economy will still need workers to serve our craft beers and make the beds for our hotel guests. Minimum wage increases are an affordable housing issue.

Our state of emergency results from the simple fact that it costs more to produce housing than many families can afford.

This is not beyond our reach. Let’s keep pushing those in charge to pursue these strategies, and pull the city out of this crisis.

David Gatzke is vice president of acquisitions at Community HousingWorks. Gatzke’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Affordable Housing Fee, Fix San Diego, Growth and Housing, Housing, Opinion

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at catherine.green@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    4 comments
    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    A couple of issues with your plan as I see it.  


    1. As mentioned by others the cost of a brand new rental built for a very different market is NOT the cost to create a low-income unit.  There is a lot of demand for high end rentals right now.   Like most things in life there are a variety of price points; high, medium and low. If the goal is to put everyone into a high end rental you will continue to be frustrated in making that happen.    


    2. The concept of a fixed and constant percent of the population that will need to be housed by others makes some sense.  The mentally ill, the disabled, etc.  I get that. 

    But to include subsidies for others who are working, and suggest that they will always need to be subsidized, that is where you lose me.    

    Affordable housing needs a few things so that it can be buildt and priced to be affordable. Fix those issues first.  Easier permitting, fewer regulations that do not fit in with higher density, transit freindly setting, etc.  Then it could start with land.   Local governments and agencies have lots of underused land and buildings that could be reused for this purpose.  They also have proven that they are good at gathering land at discounted rates when they are motivated to do so (see East Village for example). As mentioned there are federal subsidies  to help the builder.  With low cost or no-cost land, reduced regulations & building fees and federal building subsidies are you suggesting that it is not possible to build units that could sustainably rent for $1,000 to $1,300 a month?  


    3.  Raises in income comes from somewhere.  Higher prices, fewer people working, something.  I don't buy the idea that those with a strong work ethic are destined to stay at minimum wage.  

    In San Diego, if you can;

    a) speak english at a minimal level to be understood. b) are at least minimally clean and presentable.  c) are able to make work enough of a priority to show up as scheduled and do that regularly  d) do a job and   e) work well with others, you will never stay at  minimum wage.  There are non-minimum jobs going begging every day.  Only when a worker  aquires at least of few of the above traits will they be able to stop competing with the un-skilled and the un-reliable who make up the 2% of the workforce that inhabit the minimum wage jobs.  


    I'm sorry but your op-ed reminded me why we are where we are at regarding affordable housing.  

    Gaining the political will and skill to get housing build that can sustainably rented for $1,000 to $1,300 a month and your problem will be solved. 

    I beleve it's possible with attention focused on that one goal.  


    Best of luck.  




    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscriber

    Rates for "recently completed buildings" are not the place to look for affordable housing! As with all items "used" and "reused" is where affordability begins and ends. If you want more support for renters - quote the rates in the real world where people live - not in the new world where rates are ALWAYS higher. This undermines your whole case for sympathy and turns the discussion into yet another way to angle for public money going to the rich - ostensibly to help those who need it but it doesn't really trickle down sufficiently to actually solve the problem - except for a lucky few. 


    Why stick the commercial real estate industry alone for increased fees for this??? They're trying to create jobs - something also deemed important for those trying to afford a place to live. And while you can try and reduce costs for developing new units, they never do much to decrease the prices, do they? When that bubble finally bursts, everyone involved in real estate suffers too. 


    Public funding should be focused on small units that can be made available to the homeless who require help to get off the streets. And what about direct rent subsidies to those facing homelessness - or the landlords who maintain affordable units? This direct approach helps those who need it without providing higher costs or subsidies to developers that help too few and are always manipulated.


    Trying to manipulate the entire housing market for affordability is a fool's errand. Direct rental support to those in need - or to landlords maintaining units for housing them - is cheaper and would make a bigger difference to those who need it.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    When a neighborhood has to pay 100% of the cost of density in terms of traffic, noise, litter, crime, loss of privacy, loss of sunlight, and so on, but only gets to keep a fraction of the tax revenue generated by each development, does anybody wonder why San Diego neighborhoods don't allow more density?

    Fix that, and housing in San Diego will soon become more affordable.

    "Housing is generally considered affordable when a family spends no more than a third of its income for housing-related costs."

    I don't think this is a good metric because there are families who are willing to put up with high housing costs in order to live in areas with low transportation costs or other benefits.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    "all of the stakeholders have said they’re committed to working together to resolve the issue"

    they want to wrap it in the infrastructure bond. The business groups have already alluded to this.