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A recent Voice of San Diego commentary by Russell York, “San Diego’s Housing Crisis Does Not Affect Everyone Equally” perpetuates the specious argument of many who oppose development that the reason we lack affordable housing options is developer greed. Citing statistics that show far more homes for the well-to-do were built than ones affordable to the masses, he implies a flawed conclusion that all it would take to change this would be for builders to decide to build lower-priced homes. Simple, right?
What the writer — and all the others who perpetuate this fiction — apparently chooses to ignore is the fact that more affordable units cannot be built so long as the myriad causes of ever-greater costs to build include regulation (including the costly time delays that ensue while achieving approvals), fees and scarcity of buildable sites driven by government interference continue to exist. This isn’t about builders looking for “more” profit. It’s about builders making “any” profit.
A study by Point Loma Nazarene University’s chief economist, Lynn Reaser, concludes that more than 45 percent of the cost of housing in our region is directly related to regulation. By simply streamlining the process and eliminating often capricious and duplicitous layers of bureaucracy, we could dramatically lower the costs to build.
If it weren’t so tragic, it would almost be comical to hear folks claim the right to deny housing on the few remaining plots of vacant county land not permanently protected — roughly 5 percent of all vacant land remaining — and simultaneously suggesting it be left to municipalities and “villages” that are similarly opposed to growth. When citing examples of “great cities” that have dealt with housing — especially cities like Singapore and Hong Kong — one must only imagine the level of public outrage if such densities were imposed on our local communities. Especially when buildable land exists near urban and suburban communities and within easy reach of freeways.
The roughly 10,000 units being proposed by developers in the current round of county general plan amendment requests will barely make a dent in our critically deficient housing stock. Estimates place the need at that many units per year over the next decade-plus, just to keep up with demand. The suggestion that building more units will not serve to ease the housing crisis denies history and basic supply-demand economics.
Will the housing being proposed in the unincorporated areas of the county be largely available only to upper-middle and upper-income families? Perhaps. History, however, shows that people who choose to move up are likely selling existing, lower-priced homes, creating inventory at lower price points. The mere fact that there is more housing being created to meet demand also serves to keep prices at every level from reaching ever-greater heights.
The writer’s observation that the housing crisis doesn’t affect all equally is spot on. In fact, the people who most vigorously fight new development aren’t affected by it at all. They already have a home. Ironically, many who do could scarcely afford to buy their own homes at today’s prices if they had to, yet they feel no sympathy for those who can’t.
Suggesting that the current crisis and the recommendations on how to fix it are ginned up by the development community is laughable. News outlets throughout the state, and the politicians who read and listen to them, have raised public awareness that we are, indeed, in the middle of a crisis of staggering proportion.
Those in the no-growth camp continually bring up the flawed notion that the county’s general plan is carved in stone. Sacrosanct and inviolable. This is hardly the case. If it were, there would be no mechanism for amending it. Provisions to amend are a practical response to the reality that times change, and with them, the highest and best use of land in a planning area.
Calls for “leadership” to address the crisis we face ring hollow when, faced with a small but vocal group of no-growth advocates, elected officials are taken to task for actually showing some. And implying that professional planners within government are somehow in cahoots with a cabal of development interests when recommending approval of carefully vetted proposals is flat-out insulting.
Developers are not the cause of growth. They are the response to it. Every person who has a home in San Diego County has one in part because a developer provided it. Every person who has a job or shops in San Diego County does so because developers provided a place for businesses. It’s time to get real. Developers are not the enemy. Selfish attitudes are.
Kirk Effinger, a former columnist for the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, is a Realtor, housing advocate and Escondido resident.