The Game: A VOSD Investigation
Key Findings
• Building affordable housing in the city of San Diego today is often wildly more expensive than building private, market-rate apartment buildings.
• Several recent local affordable housing projects have cost taxpayers $400,000 to $500,000 per apartment, often for tiny studios and one-bedroom units.
• Designed to provide homes for those who can’t pay San Diego’s high rents, affordable housing has instead become a delivery mechanism for a host of public policy goals, from building green and near transit to offering tenants personal finance classes, all of which add cost.
• Since 2007, almost $600 million in public funding has been spent building 2,134 for-rent affordable apartments units in San Diego.
• The more cost a project takes on, the more likely it is to win the tough competition for lucrative taxpayer-funded grants called tax credits.
• The requirement to pay “prevailing wages” significantly higher than the market rate is also credited with pushing up costs by as much as 25 percent. Unskilled workers, for example, can earn an hourly wage that’s equivalent to a salary of between $72,000 and $90,000 a year.
• Costs have escalated to the point that even industry players agree they’ve gotten out of hand. The committee that hands out tax credits acknowledges this and is holding a series of seminars around the state to figure out how to bring costs down.
• Far from the ugly concrete towers of the past, today’s affordable housing projects are often the best-designed, most beautiful buildings in their neighborhoods.
• The result: Far fewer affordable apartments get built in San Diego than could be.

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