Will Carless’s latest investigation reports the Housing Commission seems to have done a runaround of the City Council by getting permission to go buy foreclosures without City Council approval for each one. Instead, it mostly bought non-foreclosed properties.

The reasoning for buying foreclosures was never altogether clear. Buying foreclosed units might have protected property values, prevented pockets of foreclosures from blighting San Diego and, perhaps most importantly, picked up bargain-rate housing units that could be turned into affordable housing for San Diegans.

Whatever the reason, only 45 of 756 units purchased by the Housing Commissions were foreclosed, and 37 of those foreclosed units were in a single project. On the other hand, it made several multimillion-dollar development deals that involve complex and potentially risky partnerships with private developers.

Who’s to blame for the failure in oversight? Some commenters blame the City Council:

Allen Hemphill:

The City Council is saying they were honeyfuggled. They are easily honeyfuggled — that is the problem!

Dale Peterson:

Looks to me like DeMaio, Frye, Faulconer and possibly Emerald asked the right questions. They were duped. And, it sure looks like Gloria, Young and Hueso were the expediters for another fleecing of the citizens monies.

Others see craven developers behind it:

Judith O’Boyle:

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This is very troubling, though not unexpected given the leanings of the council, mayor, city attorney and boards and commissions to become lapdogs of developers.

Richard Ross:

Until this city is able to throw off the developer’s control of everything from the top (mayor’s office) on down, the public will be in a constant struggle to maintain the remaining vestiges of public services.

By far the most detailed reader critique came from Murtaza Baxamusa, the director of planning and development for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation and an occasional blogger for voiceofsandiego.org.

He argues that buying in order to resolve the “unaffordability crisis” may have been more relevant than the “foreclosure crisis,” anyway, regardless of what was promised at City Council meetings. The Housing Commission has at least been pursuing affordable housing, as it should, even if it hasn’t been pursuing foreclosed properties.

He also suggests the Housing Commission refocusing on non-foreclosed properties was fine because qualifying foreclosed housing stock just wasn’t available for purchase. He writes that in 2008,

it was reasonable to expect foreclosed properties to be available at a bargain, hence the emphasis on foreclosures. However, due to the competition in San Diego with for-profit and nonprofit developers for these properties, foreclosed properties may not have made the best sense. If they did narrowly focus on it, you would have made a “Taj Mahal” issue for bringing in expensive housing stock.

VOSD editor Andrew Donohue responded that though the affordability and foreclosure crises were real, neither crisis really makes sense as a reason to focus on buying foreclosed properties:

If it’s a competitive market full of investors, and the properties are getting snapped up left and right, then I fail to see how the Housing Commission need to be worried about these properties sitting on the market.

As for the affordability crisis, Donohue wrote,

It would seem that the Housing Commission further adding to the competition on the market would only have the opposite effect of making properties more expensive.

The agency whose job it is to create affordable housing chose a strategy for dealing with foreclosures that would actually create more competition and potentially drive up costs.

Baxamusa responds:

You make a semantic distinction between “foreclosure crisis” and “housing crisis” as if the former was the only thrust of the public policy driving the Housing Commission. I see it differently, the foreclosure crisis directly originated in the affordability gap between income and price of homes, so any intervention that helps in addressing that gap helps against future foreclosure crises.

Read the rest of that long comment, and all the other comments not quoted here, in full.

The Housing Commission said it did not pursue the strategy it had originally outlined to the City Council because the foreclosure crisis didn’t explode in the way that was anticipated. In that case, reader Bill Bradshaw thinks, Rick Gentry of the Housing Commission

had a clear obligation to go back to the council, explain the new reality and recommend a different course of action.

Because he didn’t, Bradshaw says, Gentry should be fired.

Comments quoted here may have been edited for spelling, punctuation, style or readability.

I’m Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org, in part a new-fangled opinion editor. Got some strong opinions and ideas? Let me help you get them in front of tens of thousands of readers. Drop me a line at grant@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at (619) 550-5666.

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