Photo by Sam Hodgson
Affordable housing development Ten Fifty B
Before members of the City Council voted to raise the linkage fee, the discussion seemed to touch on the same issues over and over .
They repeatedly cited a recent study ranking San Diego as one of the least affordable places to live. They pointed out that wages weren’t keeping pace with housing costs. They expressed frustration over the level of poverty in our city.
The economy, local government and the resulting housing market have failed many San Diegans. I didn’t hear disagreement over this.
We agree on the problem. Here we have opportunities to solve it.
Housing goes hand-in-hand with high-paying jobs.
From an economic development perspective, the affordability of housing directly affects attraction, retention and expansion of high-paying employers – who bring high-paying jobs.
Employers need to be able to offer a high quality of life, namely a paycheck that covers more than rent. Setting up shop in a city where housing is reasonably priced makes sense for their long-term success. In other words, when we make housing more affordable in San Diego, we create and keep high-paying jobs in San Diego.
Subsidized housing has to be part of the equation.
The city’s Housing Commission has several subsidized housing programs. The largest is the Housing Choice Voucher program, better known as Section 8. This program includes more than 14,000 low-income households and 40,000 individuals. Just over half (54 percent) of recipients are seniors or disabled. Subsidized housing is clearly a tool on our belt that we cannot afford to ignore.
But we also can’t afford to focus on subsidized housing alone. More than 45,000 people sit on the subsidized housing waiting list. Realistically, we will never be able to subsidize enough housing to reach all of them. If we don’t do something more, we will continue to fail tens of thousands of San Diegans
Whether housing is subsidized or market-rate, we just need more.
San Diego’s population is growing and subsequently so is demand for housing. With more people trying to buy homes or rent apartments, sellers and landlords can demand higher and higher prices. That’s when young families have to look outside of San Diego to purchase a home, and renters are squeezed ever tighter each month.
Every low-income household that wins a coveted subsidized housing unit is a household taken out of the private housing market. This drives down prices, making all housing more affordable – to a point.
That downward pressure on prices is limited by the number of subsidized units produced. According to the Housing Commission’s most recent annual report, the commission has produced 14,531 subsidized units since 1981, or about 484 per year.
In a 2011 report, SANDAG estimated that we need to build more than 88,000 new housing units by 2020.
Pro-affordable housing policies are crucial.
Some efforts are politically divisive, but it is clear to me there are also practical opportunities in front of us.
We could bring streamlined permitting to our neighborhoods like the former redevelopment agency brought to downtown. We could acknowledge the need to build upward by reopening the discussion about height limits. We could require fewer parking spots per housing unit where it’s appropriate.
We could even get creative by allowing developers to make smaller apartments downtown, known as “micro-units,” creating more affordable options for millennials and other San Diegans who prefer location to size.
But the cost of housing is only half of the problem.
We need policies to help us produce more housing units to balance out the growing population, but we still also need policies that bring high-paying jobs to San Diego.
Which brings us back to where we started: creating and keeping high-paying jobs. To solve San Diego’s housing crisis, we need to better promote the development of new housing units while simultaneously attracting and keeping high-paying jobs.
It’s a multilayered solution, but it’s one we can’t afford to do halfway.
Sean Karafin is an economic policy analyst at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Karafin’s commentary has been edited for clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here. Want to respond? Submit a commentary.
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