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Low-Income San Diego Residents Are Depending on Affordable Housing Increase

I know because as a social worker I assist low-income tenants who are bracing for federal housing cuts. San Diego's decision Monday to clear the way for more units was the right one, and a good start.

Construction workers help build an affordable housing development in Barrio Logan. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

On the recommendation of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday approved a variety of regulatory changes intended to boost the supply of affordable housing. As a licensed clinical social worker, this is an extremely important decision for both me and my clients.

Recently, I assisted a blind and physically disabled woman who lives in central San Diego. She showed me a letter stating that her rent is about to double, but her Section 8 voucher is not. My heart sank.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryShe then proceeded to point out leaks in her home, and an AC unit that hasn’t worked in years, with insects crawling through it. In response, I called a free legal clinic and they advised my client to begin looking for housing elsewhere.

Well, with rent in San Diego at a median price of $2,208, that’s not exactly affordable for anyone, let alone someone who’s low-income or experiencing homelessness. This is an extremely harsh reality.

The San Diego Housing Commission estimates that, between 2000 and 2012, median rents in California increased by more than 20 percent while median income dropped 8 percent. In San Diego, the number of building permits has dropped since 2005, and the homes that were built favored high-income earners.

In the process, landlords lost the incentive to accept low-income tenants. Today, they can get significantly more rent from a non-Section 8 renter, without the hassle of dealing with HUD.

What does that mean for my client? If she wants to make a formal complaint to HUD, officials will send out a letter requesting the landlord fix the issue, with a warning that if the issue is not fixed, the landlord’s contract may be cut. Perhaps the landlord ignores the letter. HUD then sends another letter, saying this is the last warning. Still no response from the landlord.

So HUD cuts the contract, and now the client can either come up with the total amount of rent, including the voucher, or vacate. This places Section 8 recipients in a Catch-22 situation, as they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t take action.

My client says she doesn’t want to leave. She has lived there for over a decade, and as a blind woman, she has memorized the lay of her apartment. The Section 8 vouchers will be cut at some point in 2018, which means it’s time that she and others should begin looking for more affordable housing, so they can avoid homelessness. My client has decided instead to cross that bridge when it’s absolutely necessary, meaning once her money used to pay the new difference in rent runs out. The change is too much for her to bear, or act on, even with an advocate on her side.

What does a Section 8 cut mean for other San Diego residents? The homeless epidemic will likely worsen because resources are already limited. We currently have nearly 10,000 people living outdoors or in temporary shelters.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has committed only $25 million to help with affordable housing, out of the $747 million they have in reserve funds. It is my hope that the supervisors will step up to support our low-income community members currently experiencing or about to experience homelessness, and to support changes proposed by Mayor Faulconer and approved by the San Diego City Council.  

Those changes provide a 10 percent density bonus by allowing developers to build more units on a project, with the agreement that some are affordable. There are also incentives for more “micro” units, and changes to the land development code that could help streamline the project review process, and ultimately increase housing production.

What can you do? Speak up at the next Board of Supervisors meeting, and let your opinion be heard on this issue by those in charge of the funds.

Christina P. Kantzavelos is a licensed psychotherapist and writer living in San Diego. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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