When I was researching my middle class story that ran today, I spoke last week with Peter Dennehy, vice president of the Sullivan Group Realty Advisors, about the plight of San Diego’s middle class and the major gap between the median income and the median home price.
Dennehy said developers are not building neighborhoods at the entry level for families in San Diego anymore. The neighborhoods that used to fit this description, he said, include La Mesa, Clairemont and Serra Mesa, where modest, ranch-style 1,400- or 1,500-square-foot homes were sold to middle class workers – many of whom were employed in those defense-related manufacturing jobs SANDAG economist Marney Cox talked about in the story. Since the late 1950s, San Diego’s manufacturing jobs have dwindled by about two-thirds.
Dennehy said he thinks the real estate and building industries should work to retain the middle-class families in the county.
“Those people should not be completely priced out of the market,” he said. “Maybe they’re not going to be able to buy a house of their dreams, but they should be able to get into something. Some say those are condo conversions, but if you’re a family, that’s not really adequate.”
I also spoke to a reader last week, JL, who told me he and his fiancée – both in their mid-twenties, discuss this issue regularly. Though they make more than $100,000 combined a year, he says they live on a slim margin. Their expenses include car payments, student loans, groceries, insurance and rent on their one-bedroom apartment.
They’re getting married in six months, but feel it will take them 10 years to save enough to buy a house that’s suitable for raising children.
“I think we’ll eventually end up leaving, if we can’t get any foothold here,” he said. “A wealthy person from the East Coast will probably just come here to retire and take my place.”
He said he thinks the only way young, first-time homebuyers can get started in San Diego is with “parental welfare.”
“There’s a lot of people with down payments coming out of their parents’ 401Ks,” he said. And that’s something he doesn’t want to do, even though his parents have offered to help.
Renting for the long term isn’t a satisfactory solution for this reader. He thinks the dream of home ownership will never go away – people want a safe, clean environment, and they want to own it, he said.
“People don’t think rationally about their housing,” he said. “And maybe they shouldn’t.”
While JL and his fiancée figure it out, he said they know one thing for sure:
“I’m not moving to Temecula,” he said. “There’s a lot prettier, less expensive, places to live in the country than the Inland Empire. I don’t understand why people go there.”