Elected leaders at the state and local levels bemoan our housing crisis. They know that 57 percent of San Diegans spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and 28 percent spend more than half. The median home cost is at an all-time high of $640,000. And that means that home ownership is an opportunity attainable to less than a third of San Diegans. Nearly half of millennials are considering leaving San Diego because of the cost of housing, which would create a massive brain drain and harm the prosperity of our region.
The root of the problem is that for the past 30 years, we haven’t built nearly enough homes for our children and grandchildren. Although elected officials offer lip service for this crisis, few have accurately identified why we haven’t built those homes: fear.
In this election, Measure E is on the ballot to build more homes and reimagine the long beleaguered Midway District. It will lift the coastal height limit that’s been set since 1972, arbitrarily imposed on the Midway neighborhood. Measure E is one of many ways we can tackle this housing crisis. We must vote yes on Measure E.
But some in our community oppose Measure E. Let’s talk about why.
The president said out loud what we as a nation have left unsaid, that “the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream … will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” “bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.” In these comments, President Donald Trump alluded that changing our neighborhoods is bad, scary, a threat. Our nation’s deep-seated racial and class divide lies in maintaining a status quo that benefits only the few it was designed to serve.
In the San Diego mayor’s race, Democratic candidate Barbara Bry is echoing the president’s NIMBY messaging. She declares that she will “protect your neighborhoods.” She claims that “they are coming for your homes” and uses phrases like “there goes the neighborhood.”
Let’s call this what it is: thinly-veiled fear-mongering that aims to scare us into thinking that a city for all of us will come at someone’s expense.
For a long time, we’ve been living in a White America and a Black/Brown America. A rich America and a poor America. They have been kept separate and unequal by design and out of fear.
It was not until the landmark Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, that the United States finally created a legal framework to fight such housing discrimination. But soon after its passing, a new tool was used to segregate. The U.S. went through an intense multi-decade effort to downzone, reducing the building capacity of cities by millions of homes during the ‘70s and ‘80s, cementing existing segregation and ensuring that more affordable types of homes, such as apartments or condos, could never be built in certain protected neighborhoods.
It worked. In 2017, our schools were just as segregated as they were in 1977. But downzoning isn’t an old trick. It’s a powerful tool to keep new families from moving into a neighborhood. As recently as 2016, Uptown Planners requested a downzone to prevent new apartments in Uptown, one of the wealthiest areas in San Diego.
These exclusionary tactics are why the Obama administration strengthened and gave teeth to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Act. That measure, a provision of the Fair Housing Act, simply requires cities to document patterns of racial bias and examine the barriers to fair housing, including any factors that limit access to opportunity. Trump rescinded these changes early in his presidency. Why? Because it puts the zoning practices that keep housing scarce, expensive and exclusive in the crosshairs.
But what does this all have to do with San Diego’s Measure E?
Opponents of the measure have levied against it the same red herrings and dog whistles that politicians like Trump have used in these discussions. Arguments against Measure E run the gamut: it will create buildings that are out of “character” for the area or it will ruin views of the bay. This rhetoric favors the status quo, which is clearly not working. We need Measure E to reverse decades of disinvestment, integrate our neighborhoods and increase the low home production that keeps cost high.
The Midway Community Planning Group – a community-based, volunteer advisory board – has asked for the height limit to be removed so the neighborhood can move forward with plans for new housing, jobs and entertainment, all near transit and existing infrastructure. The neighborhood deserves a chance to be its best self, and Measure E gives it the opportunity to do that.
For San Diego to move in an exciting new direction, we need bold leadership to stand up and call out fear-mongering instead of giving in to tired tropes about the people “coming for your neighborhood.” To make the California Dream a reality, we need to change tact immediately and build the neighborhoods of the future: mixed-income, dynamic and with sorely needed housing our region has been denied for all the wrong reasons.
Marissa Tucker-Borquez is president of YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County and the founder of Rise North Park.