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You aren’t imagining it. It’s hard to find – or rather, pay for – housing in San Diego.

The latest foreboding numbers come from, which dubbed San Diego America’s least affordable city. That’s based on the number of people who can afford to buy a home in various ZIP codes. If supply is the problem, our situation is about to get even more dire: Recall SANDAG’s projection that our city alone will add 590,000 new residents by 2050.

Where do we put all those bodies? One obvious answer involves the D-word, but that’s a concept that’s set off some of the region’s most intense battles over the last few years. I asked a few housing pros where they’d start in trying to solve our growing crisis.

The following responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

What would you do if you had a magic wand to lower home prices and the cost of living in San Diego?

San Diego needs more housing and more transportation choices.

To reduce the cost of homes in San Diego, we need more of them – it’s supply and demand. Not only must we build and fund more subsided affordable homes, but we also need to thoughtfully re-examine development restrictions that artificially limit the supply of market-rate construction.

The average San Diegan spends about 50 percent of their income on transportation and housing combined. Yet even in high-cost San Francisco, the combined cost of housing and transportation is only 43 percent of income. San Diego’s auto-focused infrastructure forces families to spend a lot of money on gas and extra vehicles. If SANDAG spent a greater share of its transportation budget on transit and bike infrastructure, San Diego would be a less expensive place for people to get around.

Colin Parent, policy counsel for Circulate San Diego

To understand the solutions to the high cost of housing in San Diego, it’s worth getting some facts on the table.

We looked at census data to find the number of new housing units added in San Diego County between the 1990, 2000 and 2010. In 1990 there was one housing unit for every 1.285 members of the labor force. By 2010, that had risen to 1.346 workers for every housing unit in the county. Even adjusting for the increase in labor force participation, between 2000 and 2010, we added about 20,000 fewer houses in the county when judged against increases in the local labor market.

So where did those workers go to sleep at night? Simply put, the failure to build enough in our county fueled demand for housing in southern Riverside County, and to an extent, Baja. Meanwhile prices closer to job centers rose, in an elegant demonstration that supply and demand can impact prices, geography matters and consumers will make trade-offs like a longer commute.

In a magic wand world, we would radically repurpose what are currently suburban properties in the parts of our county that have seen the most job growth. This is why policies that make it difficult to add housing in places like Torrey Pines or Sorrento Mesa are problematic. It isn’t to say that denser properties might not raise other problems. But without supply, our high housing costs and high cost of living is a feature, not a bug, of living in San Diego.

Erik Bruvold, president, National University System Institute for Policy Research

We don’t have to wave a magic wand. We simply need to roll up our sleeves and rethink how we do business in San Diego.

As Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said repeatedly, we need to streamline how our Development Services Department works. We need to incentivize the department to ensure permits are issued in a timely manner. Reducing the time it takes to get housing projects built is the single best way to reduce the cost of construction and ultimately, the cost of buying or renting a home.

We need to give developers incentives to create a variety of housing options, from micro-apartments to mixed-income developments. This is an area where urban neighborhoods that are built for density – like downtown – can lead by example. Done well, this urban density boosts supply and lowers the cost of housing while encouraging efficient public transportation and creating a more sustainable region.

We also need to look at parking ratios – especially in urban neighborhoods. Increasingly, younger generations are choosing to have one car or none at all, opting instead to walk, bike, use public transit or ride share to get where they need to go. We need to rethink the parking supply by loosening requirements to better meet the needs of communities.

Home prices vary significantly by neighborhood. That means access to transit and other mobility options is a critical piece in addressing housing affordability. Easy and cost-efficient transit that connects neighborhoods to economic hubs like downtown will help provide more affordable housing options.

Kris Michell, president and CEO, Downtown San Diego Partnership

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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