- Voice of San Diego - https://www.voiceofsandiego.org -

Letter: Trading Housing for Schools is Short-Sighted

In light of the California Supreme Court’s decision to abolish redevelopment agencies [1], much of the debate has pitted redevelopment entities against public schools. Unfortunately, not enough attention has been paid to the collateral damage in this fight — the loss of affordable housing funding.

The irony in the outcome is that public schools and affordable housing have much more to gain if both are sustainably funded. Schools can be much more effective when their students are fully present, both physically and mentally during the school day. The reality is that when students are distracted by inadequate living conditions, uncertainty about where they will sleep tonight or fear of their surroundings, they cannot learn. Never mind do homework, read, work on the internet or do the other projects teachers require.

It’s an unfortunate pairing of schools versus redevelopment because some of the same students who benefit from the increased education funding are homeless. They would have otherwise gained from redevelopment and the affordable housing it creates.

According to a 2011 report from the San Diego County Office of Education, 1,700 students in the county slept in a car, shelter, or even worse — on the street — every night. Those same youth arrived at school hungry and tired, impairing their ability to concentrate and become successful students.

Their situation — and that of the 83,000 families in San Diego County on waiting lists for affordable housing — is made even worse by the California Supreme Court’s ruling. Previously, state law required redevelopment agencies to spend 20 percent of their revenue collections to build affordable housing that in turn could provide a safe and affordable apartment for the waitress, dishwasher, cashier, housekeeper, or janitor in our community. The policy resulted in more than 15,000 affordable homes being built in San Diego County, and 98,000 statewide.

But even those numbers don’t come close to meeting the need in our region. The San Diego Association of Governments estimates that 64,000 new affordable homes must be built across the county before the end of the decade just to keep up with demand.

The Supreme Court’s decision will dramatically slow the construction of new affordable housing in San Diego County. The creation of almost 2,000 affordable homes in the region is now on hold, in projects stretching from National City to Oceanside. It is unclear if, or when, these affordable homes will ever be completed.

In response to the court’s ruling, a new funding source for affordable housing must be found.

At the state level, voters approved bond measures in 2002 and 2006 to dedicate nearly $5 billion collectively for affordable housing. Those funds, however, are nearly exhausted. It is now time to find a similar, if not longer-term, funding mechanism.

While the path to new funding sources is unclear, the benefits of affordable housing remain obvious for the entire community — not just the seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and families who gain an affordable place to live.

New affordable housing is a significant jobs engine. For every 100 affordable homes built, 122 local jobs are generated during construction and 32 permanent jobs after completion, according to a 2010 report from the National Association of Homebuilders. In addition, a new home can produce as much as $375,000 in new economic activity in the market.

With the elimination of redevelopment agencies, the state’s already struggling economy faces the loss of thousands of more construction jobs and thousands more students and their families will remain homeless. Hopefully, state leaders will recognize that adequate shelter is just as basic a human need as education. Californians need both. Both create jobs and both are necessary to build a stronger California.

Susan Riggs Tinsky is executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation.


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