San Diego is in the middle of a major housing crisis, but so far we’ve failed to address it.

Voice of San Diego has covered some of the big housing failures: Poway’s rejection of affordable homes for veterans, Encinitas’ unwillingness to do its fair share in meeting state housing goals and development proposals that promote urban sprawl.

Commentary - in-story logoBut one of the biggest factors holding San Diego up is its inability to first come to terms with the region’s housing need.

Post-recession, San Diego County now faces a deficit of 60,000 units, with low- and middle-income housing hardest hit. We should be building 14,000 units every year to meet demand and even more to make up the deficit.

But it is not all bleak and hopeless. We’re part of a new coalition called Housing You Matters, which is seeking to build a new consensus on constructive solutions to San Diego’s housing crisis.

Here’s how San Diego leaders and community member can help start chipping away at the problem:


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

Strengthen the community planning process so there’s ultimately less opposition to new development and less delay. This can be done by incorporating more diverse voices into the community plan update processes and using technology to reach community members who aren’t able to make the meetings. Having a regional interactive discussion about San Diego’s housing needs would also be helpful.

Make better use of underused land in proximity to public transit.

Identify leaders among elected officials and ask each city and the county to establish goals for increased housing production over a range of price points – for both sale and rental properties – so that their adopted housing plans are actually implemented.

Establish accountability by measuring our region’s progress city by city, and share both the good and bad news with the public. Create something akin to the annual homeless count, instead counting new housing units brought online every year. The results could both honor and shame local municipalities.

Identify and advocate for broad‐based funding for infrastructure, and develop innovative financing mechanisms, like the state’s Enhanced Infrastructure Finance Districts. Developers in the city of San Diego receive a 50 percent density bonus and zoning deviations when they build 15 percent of their initial zoning capacity as affordable homes – expand this incentive to other cities.

A new state law makes it easier for people to build accessory dwelling units, or granny flats. Some cities, like San Diego, already comply with the requirements under the state law. Others like Del Mar don’t. Cities should move faster toward compliance and even work toward going beyond the state law in making sure more of these small, often affordable units are built.

Ensure general plan, community plan updates and the SANDAG Smart Growth transit sites have environmental documents in place that streamline the permit process. This saves time and money for developers so projects make financial sense.

At the end of the day, we must convince the public that providing needed housing makes the entire region a better place to live.

Lori Holt Pfeiler is chair of Housing You Matters and president of San Diego Habitat for Humanity. Dan Silver is an executive committee member of Housing You Matters and executive director of Endangered Habitats League. Their 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: Growth and Housing, Housing, Opinion

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    6 comments
    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    " At the end of the day, we must convince the public that providing needed housing makes the entire region a better place to live."

    Good luck with that. More density and more people make the quality of life in San Diego go down not up.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann 

    I suggest they do that, be honest about it, and see how that works out for them.

    Affordable housing is an oxymoron and this infill/density strategy is an unfillable cup. When all is said and done what you have is more people with the same problem.....a lack of housing

    Mike Lippke
    Mike Lippke

    Actually, all the people already live in the community. Density is shifted within the city, because these low income folks come from and still live in the city where the new housing is built. Figuring out the ideal density map is the difficult thing for communities.

    Also, the main benefactors are not the middle class. This makes the housing problem more difficult to sell to the community, because most people in communities like Encinitas, are middle class. The main benefactors are the investment class and the very poor. It's an easy sell to the investment class as long as the housing is somewhere else. Along with that, it's difficult to get the poor to participate in the process, because they have difficulty navigating the system. So who will take up the slack?

    The real key in places like Encinitas is to take into consideration the demographics and sell to their desires. Of course getting the discussion going is the first step.

    So where are we going now that the discussion has started?

    Cory Briggs
    Cory Briggs subscribermember

    These are reasonable suggestions.  This isn't the first time they've been floated, and obviously these alone won't solve the crisis, but it's good to see Housing You Matters picking them up and running with them.  Thank you.