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The unaffordability of housing is one of the most pressing issues facing California today. As our population grows, land remains limited, creating a classic supply and demand imbalance that hits middle-class and low-income families the hardest.
In San Diego, this situation is getting worse every year. Half of San Diegans cannot find rental housing they can afford and 60 percent cannot afford to purchase a home. The dire consequences vary — from rising homelessness and a widening wealth gap to lagging competitiveness as talented workers are priced out of San Diego’s housing market.
Yet our region is on pace to produce only half of the homes needed to meet population growth.
Experts agree the only real long-term solution is to build more for-sale and rental homes that are market rate and affordable. This means creating denser neighborhoods in our urban areas. Land in mass scale is virtually non-existent, and the only option is to redevelop existing, underdeveloped properties with more homes.
There are no easy land-use decisions left in San Diego. Maintaining our status as a world-class city requires creativity, compassion and courage to make difficult decisions that build a strong future without diminishing the community character or displacing our most vulnerable populations.
A proposed development pending before the City Council captures the issues and challenges faced by public officials, private developers and anyone who calls San Diego home.
Penasquitos Village is an existing 332-rental apartment community built nearly 50 years ago near I-15 in Rancho Penasquitos. Apartments at Penasquitos Village rent at market rates between $1,210 and $1,460, which is slightly below the area median price.
The owner of Penasquitos Village, Atlantic & Pacific Management, wants to redevelop the 41-acre site with 600 homes and apartments priced for middle-class families. On the surface, this appears to be exactly the kind of smart development San Diego needs: redevelop apartments at the end of their lifespan and replace them with twice as many brand-new energy-efficient and water-wise homes on land that’s near a major freeway, shopping, schools, transit and jobs.
But with the very tight housing market, hundreds of residents could face a very uncertain future by leaving Penasquitos Village. Particularly vulnerable are the Section 8 voucher holders who must find landlords willing to accept the subsidized rent at a time when vacancy rates are at historic lows.
Without creativity, compassion and courage, a situation like this becomes a stark choice that places all stakeholders in an impossible situation. The result could easily be that reluctance and resistance mean nothing gets done.
The landowner and its development partner, Lennar Homes, appear to be demonstrating the kind of creativity and commitment needed today. The homes they propose building will be priced below the median for new construction and aimed specifically at the middle-class families who are vital to the future of San Diego. They have added additional homes designated as low-income affordable rental to the proposed new community, called Pacific Village, fulfilling a rarely-met requirement that developers build 10 percent affordable rental homes onsite. The 60 affordable rental homes would be designated for residents earning 65 percent of the area median income. Current residents of Penasquitos Village can sign up for priority placement in the new community.
The development team has also provided a comprehensive relocation assistance program to help all existing residents’ transition to new homes. As part of the program, they are providing one-on-one consultation services to help residents find housing that meets their needs, while also working with a specialized relocation provider and assisting with moving expenses. Additionally, AP is opening 40 rental homes at nearby properties it manages for voucher holders. Combined with the brand new 60 affordable rental homes, the project effectively creates 100 new rental homes for low-income residents that do not exist today.
Further, they have committed to not start construction on the new development until every one of the current voucher holders has found a new home.
For longer-term residents who pay market rent, 18 months of compensation is being offered, which amounts to the rent differential between what they pay today and what they might pay at a comparable replacement home, plus moving costs.
The proposed development is expected to be considered in March by the City Council. The onus now is on city officials to show courage — the final necessary ingredient. Despite the laudable efforts by the development team, disruption to some residents will occur, and there almost certainly will remain protests and objections. However, we all need to rise above and look at the comprehensive package being offered, including the development of several hundred new homes for a spectrum of renters and buyers.
Our housing crisis will not be solved by inaction or timid half-steps. The story of Penasquitos Village demonstrates our modern-day challenges. It also demonstrates that the goal of creating safe, clean and modern housing within reach of more San Diegans can be achieved with the right mix of creativity, compassion and courage.
John Seymour is vice president of the California-based National Community Renaissance, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.