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San Diego Has a Duty to Clear Regulations and Build More Affordable Housing

Next month, my City Council colleagues and I will consider amendments to the land development code. Many good changes are being proposed, but they do not go far enough.
mercado del barrio barrio logan

Until recently, the Mercado del Barrio mixed-used project in Barrio Logan struggled to fill up its commercial space. Now the commercial space is almost entirely rented out, but Councilman David Alvarez has said it could have been used for housing in the interim. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

When I was a senior in high school, my family and I were left without a home because of the rapidly increasing cost of housing. For a few months, I lived in a friend’s spare room. My parents, who were both working full time, could not afford to live in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Barrio Logan.

Two decades later, San Diego is facing a housing crisis that threatens more families and the future of San Diego. What’s frightening this time around is that the problem is not the result of a bubble or speculators or the banks. The problem is we just haven’t built enough homes.

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Over the next 10 years, we need to build 187,000 units to accommodate future San Diegans, and to get there, we will need government intervention. But in this case, the government must look to burdensome rules that have made home-building difficult.

The current average cost of a home is $601,200 in San Diego. The most comprehensive study on housing in the city, conducted by the San Diego Housing Commission, found that low-income families are going through what I went through years ago. Our janitors, dishwashers and others employed in the service industry can’t afford to live in San Diego.

But the difficulty today extends to moderate-income families, teachers, police officers and firefighters. More than 70 percent of this population cannot afford home ownership, and more than 30 percent cannot afford rent. Half of all residents in San Diego can’t find rental housing they can afford, and 60 percent of all residents cannot afford homeownership.

This is a difficult truth to face. Local government, in this case the City Council, can be part of the solution.

We need to get rid of rules that have delayed the building of housing or increased the cost of housing. Our first opportunity will be next month, when we review 50 amendments to the Land Development Code (LDC), which is one of the many rule books on how and where to build housing, among other things. There are many good changes being proposed, but they do not go far enough. The city must get rid of regulations and find ways to incentivize housing construction. With the housing crisis rapidly getting worse, I am proposing rule changes that will allow the city to be innovative and bold when it comes to building housing.

San Diegans, neighbors, businesses and elected leaders must accept our reality. The only way to seriously tackle our housing crisis is to increase density.

My first recommendation to do this is to rezone and increase density around transit priority areas. As identified in the “Addressing the Housing Affordability Crisis: San Diego Housing Production Objectives 2018-2028” Report, if areas around transit were to be rezoned by just one level, allowing for a few extra homes to be built per property lot, up to 146,000 new homes could be built. Adopting this change is simply a must.

My next proposal eliminates rules that cause “mixed-use” commercial space on the street level to remain vacant. It would give flexibility to convert empty space into housing. Rather than have vacant commercial spaces become a blight for the community, let’s activate and create a vibrant space where people can live.

Another proposal relates to how and where we allow “Live/Work Quarters” or “Shopkeeper” housing. It’s bad enough that we call essentially the same kind of housing that allows commercial space to coincide with living spaces by two names and attach two different sets of rules. Currently, these uses are restricted to certain zones in the city.

Instead, my proposal expands the zones in which they are allowed. In addition, let’s allow our real world needs to be solved with innovation and flexibility. The current rules allow for only 33 percent of the space to be used for residential purposes and it’s only allowed for artists and artisans. With our changing workforce, we should not be limiting who can live here and what kind of business they run. Instead, let’s open up the opportunity to a more diverse workforce to embrace this use.

My final proposal is to eliminate unnecessary parking. Parking requirements are burdensome and a costly component of housing. I call for waiving parking requirement for small apartments, condos, live/work units and studios near transit.

We can have housing for all San Diegans. More people can live and work in the same community. We can make bold decisions which makes housing affordable and obtainable for future generations.

David Alvarez is a San Diego City Councilman representing the eighth district. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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