A homeless man and his dog sit on a street in downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego will need thousands of new homes and housing aid slots for homeless San Diegans at a cost of about $1.9 billion over the next decade, according to a new city action plan to address the homelessness crisis.

The Housing Commission-funded plan produced by the Corporation for Supportive Housing urges the city to more than double its stock of so-called permanent supportive housing units, homes that typically come with services and amenities for vulnerable formerly homeless residents. That means building or rehabilitating about 2,800 supportive housing units over the next decade and providing supportive housing subsidies for another 700 existing units in the city.

And the plan suggests the city should line up 60 percent of the new units in the next four years. Consultants estimate construction and rehabilitation costs to accomplish that would total $577 million.

The report also calls for hundreds of new temporary rental assistance slots for homeless San Diegans and more aid for San Diegans on the brink of homelessness.

Now that city leaders and voters have an estimated tab to address the crisis, they’ll have to decide how – and whether – to foot the bill.

The new roadmap and housing targets, which the City Council is set to weigh in on Monday, follow requests from City Council Democrats who demanded that the city seek a holistic homelessness strategy after signing off on a series of new programs pushed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the two years after a hepatitis A outbreak that devastated San Diego’s homeless population.

The proposed housing investments are a central tenet of the proposed strategy to dramatically reduce homelessness in the city and reshape the system aimed at addressing it over the next decade. The plan also calls for the city to aim to halve street homelessness within the next three years, and to effectively end homelessness among veterans and youth during the same period.

Consultants Ann Oliva and Liz Drapa of the Corporation for Supportive Housing wrote that the city’s lack of adequate low-income and supportive housing were the most-cited barriers to moving homeless San Diegans off the streets in their conversations with homeless San Diegans and service providers.

“This contributes to low rates of permanent housing placement and a feeling of hopelessness by people served through the system,” Oliva and Drapa wrote.

Indeed, homeless San Diegans wait on the street or in shelters for months and even years for housing that providers have determined they are qualified to receive.

That’s partly because San Diego has fewer supportive housing projects than other large metros despite its massive need.

An analysis published by the San Francisco Controller’s Office last year found San Diego had the lowest number of supportive housing units per capita of the 18 large metros reviewed despite its status for years as the region with the fourth largest homeless population in the nation.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing estimates 3,500 homeless San Diegans will need supportive housing to end their homelessness.

The plan concludes that a major, dedicated funding source will be critical to providing that housing and lower-level subsidies for those considered less vulnerable.

“A substantial infusion of funds of at least $1 billion will be needed to create new capital resources, rental subsidy and supportive services over the next 10 years,” the plan states.

Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry said city leaders and voters need to come to terms with the cost to deliver needed housing and aid to effectively attack the problem.

“I think it’s the kind of thing we have to face if we’re serious about solving the problem,” Gentry said.

Two 2020 ballot measures could help supply new cash, but both must receive support from at least two-thirds of city voters to pass – and one has not yet made the ballot.

Supporters of a March 2020 hotel-tax hike proposal to fund a Convention Center expansion, homeless services and road repairs estimated last year that it could pull in $276 million in its first decade. They haven’t detailed how the city should spend that money.

Affordable housing advocates have also rallied behind a potential November 2020 property-tax measure that could bring in $900 million. The San Diego Housing Federation, the group behind the measure, had already envisioned funding 2,500 supportive housing units as well as another 5,000 subsidized units for low-income San Diegans.

Housing Federation Executive Director Stephen Russell has said his group may adjust its plans to better match the homelessness plan’s housing production recommendations.

“We’d like to use it as a template for the expenditure plan for our bond measure,” Russell said last month.

Interested in learning more about the homelessness plan and what it will take to implement it? Join me at Politifest on Oct. 26 for a discussion with key players engaged in trying to execute the new city strategy.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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