A mayoral veto late last week leaves City Council President Georgette Gómez with a tough decision: Abandon her effort to reform a city affordable housing mandate or cut a deal to keep it alive?
Her office isn’t confirming which path she’ll take. She has limited time to decide.
For about a year, Gómez worked on changing the city’s so-called inclusionary housing policy, which aims to deliver more affordable housing in the city. Her changes would have increased the fee developers pay to avoid including low-income housing in their projects, and lowered the average level of income San Diegans would need to earn to qualify for those homes.
But a narrow 5-4 City Council vote left the policy vulnerable to a mayoral veto and Mayor Kevin Faulconer pounced, arguing that the policy would stymie – not encourage – affordable housing development.
To keep her reform proposal alive, Gómez and a City Council supermajority will need to override the mayor’s veto with a 6-3 vote.
That would require persuading at least one more City Council member to back the policy and scheduling another vote to override the mayor’s veto by mid-October to meet the 30-day deadline set out in the city charter.
If Gómez decides to move on or can’t reach a compromise, the veto to her proposal will stand and the existing inclusionary policy widely viewed as outdated and ill-suited to today’s housing crisis will remain in place.
If Gómez successfully crafts a compromise, it could face a referendum threat from building industry leaders who fear the policy could further hamper development at a time when homebuilding permits are already plummeting.
In a Monday statement, Gómez focused more on her frustration with Faulconer’s veto than on her next steps.
“I am disappointed that Mayor Faulconer has chosen to take a stand against working families struggling to make ends meet with his veto of my ordinance to expand affordable housing in San Diego,” Gómez wrote.
If Gómez hopes to continue to fight for her policy, she’ll want to corral Councilwoman Vivian Moreno, a fellow Democrat who is widely considered the Council member most likely to move to a yes vote.
Moreno signaled what it would take to win her vote when she described why she opposed it.
At two separate City Council hearings, she zeroed in on the average incomes that builders would need to serve if they chose to build affordable housing in their projects. She’d like the inclusionary policy adjusted so it can serve families with higher average incomes.
Gómez has proposed that affordable units built in market-rate projects serve low-income families making an average of 50 percent of the area median income – or about $53,500 annually for a family of four.
Moreno would like the city to instead encourage developments to serve families making an average of 60 percent of the median income, the equivalent of $64,200 annually for a family of four.
Moreno advocated for this change moments before both City Council votes on the measure. She said she had heard builders’ concerns and worried Gómez’s proposal could hamper affordable housing development.
Gómez, who had already compromised on other aspects of the policy, decided against making those changes. She hoped Faulconer would let the policy move forward. He didn’t.
“While I share the Council’s desire to increase affordable housing for hard-working families in the city of San Diego, I cannot sign a proposal that is inconsistent with our common objective of building more affordable housing,” Faulconer wrote in his veto memo last Thursday.
It’s unclear if Gómez might try to negotiate a compromise with Moreno, or even with Faulconer and a business and development coalition that has come out against the policy.
Officials with the Building Industry Association and the Chamber of Commerce, both members of the coalition, said this week they had not talked with Gómez’s office or gotten word on next steps since the veto.
Travis Knowles, Moreno’s chief of staff, on Tuesday declined to say whether Moreno’s vote was in play, and deferred to a statement the councilwoman sent out after the veto outlining her opposition to Gómez’s policy.
“The proposed inclusionary policy passed by the City Council will likely decrease the amount of affordable units built – which is something I cannot support,” Moreno wrote in the statement.
As Gómez weighs next steps and possibilities, she’s now also juggling a congressional run likely to dramatically shift her agenda in coming months – making her next steps all the more uncertain.
For a time, the City Council president’s plan to update the 15-year-old inclusionary housing policy was her chief policy priority and a progressive rallying cry. Political insiders thought a new Democratic supermajority on the City Council would help her deliver it.
Now the measure is on life support and Gómez has to decide whether to revive it.