Rancho Peñasquitos residents, pictured in 2013, asked San Diego’s Redistricting Commission not to split their community between two City Council districts. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

On Monday, the San Diego City Council will consider a proposal to demolish hundreds of housing units at Peñasquitos Village, or PQ Village, and replace them with roughly 600 new units. The project, now known as Pacific Village, had encountered significant opposition from the community because it would only set aside 60 affordable housing units, resulting in a net loss of affordable units during an affordable housing crisis.

However, the San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council last week facilitated a meeting in which the builders offered a revised relocation package to PQ Village residents that included 12 additional off-site low-income units. In exchange, the community groups Save PQ Village and San Diego Organizing Project have agreed to drop their dissent at Monday’s meeting.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

But what the builders, Atlantic & Pacific and Lennar Homes, are asking the City Council to do remains a violation of the long-standing community plan — and it should be rejected.

The project is being portrayed as a victory for affordable housing advocates but would ultimately add 269 above-median income units and result in 272 fewer low-income units. If the City Council approves Pacific Village, then it will perpetuate the slow-bleed of low income housing for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Even though the city’s general plan states that affordable housing should be spread across the city “so that no single area experiences a disproportionate concentration,” the San Diego Housing Commission has identified no affordable units in District 5 or PQ.

The city’s general plan also states that San Diego is supposed to work towards “a variety of housing types and sizes with varying levels of affordability in residential and village developments,” yet the median price of homes is $725,900 and the median rent price is $2,295 in that area. Also consider that the cheapest unit for sale at the moment is $550,000, but the median income for a family of four in San Diego is $63,400.

Thus, a family would need an annual income of $66,253 — without other debt — to qualify for a 4.5 percent loan and a 3.0 percent down payment.

So on its face, the Pacific Village project is not in accordance with the city’s general plan because it would further undercut the policy for mixed income development city-wide.

City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez estimates in her recent Housing Action Plan that more than 1,300 federally subsidized affordable homes in San Diego were lost between 1995 and 2016. Another 1,371 units are converting to market rate over the next 5 years, including PQ Village Apartments.

Unlike most communities, the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board preserved low-to-moderate income housing to the older part of Peñasquitos called “The Village.” Now that the housing market has returned to 2006 values, the landowner understands that it is profitable to remove the low-income units and replace them with more above moderate-income units.

In July 2017, the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board conditionally approved the Pacific Village project so long as there were at least 65 low income units. However, the city Planning Commission approved the project with only 60 low income units in December 2017.

This isn’t the first time the owners of the property have attempted to ignore public calls to increase low-income housing. The approval of the Cresta Bella Apartments Project in 2009, although it increased density, led to a net loss of 213 low-income units. Under a ministerial permit, the project did not require approval from the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board or City Council, even though the community plan preserves the land for low-income units.

That set a precedent the developer in this current case is likely to leverage.

It’s also problematic that several of the non-profit groups providing support and training to the residents have strong ties to developers and labor groups. The various stakeholders convinced leading community members last week to drop their opposition to the project in exchange for $1,500 more relocation money and the promise of affordable housing units off-site in Del Norte and for staying neutral at Monday’s City Council meeting. But in the process, Lennar agreed to a relocation amount that is less than the industry standard of $5,000 per unit, or what Los Angeles Relocation Program requires from its landowners.

The message to other landowners and developers is that they need only pay a small fee to buy off affordable housing advocates and residents in exchange for their silence. Some of the Save PQ Village members who disagreed with the developer’s agreement splintered off to create another group, known as Village United, to continue advocating for PQ residents.

The fate of future low-income units rests in the hands of the City Council on Monday. It will either exercise political cowardice and rubber stamp the project. Or it will exercise political courage and support our numerous community plans that encourage increasing mixed-income housing throughout San Diego.

Melinda Vásquez is a mortgage attorney and vice chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party’s North Area Caucus. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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