The largest share of the increasing cost-of-living in San Diego is housing costs. The average rent in San Diego rose faster than inflation to $1,377 in 2011, and is expected to increase by 3.4 percent this year according to a forecast by USC Lusk Center. In order to keep up with rising rents, a full-time worker would need to make wages of more than $26 an hour.

Here is the housing-wage conundrum: our workforce is falling behind on rents. According to the Center on Housing Policy, 1-in-3 working households bear a significant housing cost burden, i.e. they pay more than half of their income on housing. This is primarily driven by renters. In San Diego region, the number of working households with a severe housing cost burden significantly increased to 153 thousand in 2010. It would take 3.3 full-time minimum-wage jobs to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. Hence, San Diego’s workers continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Working people should be able to afford a place to live.

In a state with some of the nation’s most expensive home prices, half of our households depend on renting. When the California Supreme Court dissolved redevelopment agencies last year, it also eliminated the largest source of state funding for creating much-needed affordable homes — $1 billion annually. Over its life, redevelopment built 15,000 affordable apartments in San Diego region alone. The elimination of this fund means the number of income-restricted homes for the elderly, veterans, working families, and people with disabilities will stagnate at best. More than 2,200 apartments that were in the works are now stalled and at risk of never being completed in light of redevelopment’s abolishment.

To prevent this situation from becoming worse, state legislation has been introduced that would generate up to $1 billion annually to stabilize California’s housing market, put tens of thousands of construction workers back on the job, and create millions of dollars in new economic activity. As Susan Tinsky of the San Diego Housing Federation advocated in her letter, housing construction creates jobs and stabilizes communities.

HOMeS Act (Senate Bill 1220) will support the development of affordable homes for Californians by assessing a $75 fee on real estate transactions, excluding property sales. The bill’s passage is urgent because funding for affordable housing is disappearing, including redevelopment and the $5 billion in affordable housing bonds approved by state voters in 2000 and 2006 that are nearly exhausted. This is the kind of catalyst we need to restore our economy and improve stability in our families and communities.

Building affordable housing is critical for the livability of our region, and to attract business. It is time for the state to commit itself to a secure source of funds to put an affordable roof over working Californians.

Murtaza Baxamusa is an adjunct lecturer with the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; and the Director of Planning and Development for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation.

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Murtaza Baxamusa

Murtaza Baxamusa works for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corp. and volunteered as a special policy adviser for Bob Filner.

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