Photo courtesy of Studio E Architects

The vast majority of county residents agree: Steep housing costs and homelessness are major crises.

An exclusive poll commissioned by Voice of San Diego reveals 80 percent of county residents believe the cost of housing and rent are extremely or very serious problems, while 76 percent of a smaller sample said the same about homelessness.

The housing poll reached 712 county residents from Oct. 8-22, through a mix of online surveys and live-interview calls to both landlines and mobile phones, and has a margin of error of 3.7 percent. About 355 county residents were asked about homelessness. The Voice Poll, conducted by FM3 Research, also surveyed the San Diego mayor’s race and the District 3 race for the County Board of Supervisors, residents’ trust in civic leadership, the direction of the region and more. (You can see the crosstabs for the housing and homelessness questions here, and here.)

The Voice Poll results speak to broad consensus on problems that San Diego politicos say has been evident in local polling for years. Consensus on solutions to those problems, however, has been harder to come by – and that makes it difficult to predict how even voters who believe the region’s housing and homelessness problems have reached crisis levels will respond to measures intended to tackle them.

While city and county leaders have approved a series of policies meant to help address the city’s housing and homelessness crises, a supermajority of San Diego voters have yet to get behind funding measures to attack those problems like voters have elsewhere in the state.

Affordable housing advocates in the city hope to change that this election season with Measure A, a $900 million housing bond to fund 7,500 subsidized homes for homeless and low-income San Diegans at risk of ending up on the street. Another set of advocates is also backing Measure E, which aims to exempt the city’s Midway District from the city’s 30-foot coastal height limit and thus allow thousands more housing units in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, proponents of a March hotel-tax measure that included funds for unspecified homeless initiatives appear poised to argue in court that Measure C, which received 65 percent of the vote, should pass with a simple majority because it was pushed as a citizens initiative.

The strategies and coalitions behind Measures A and C, in particular, are revealing.

Measure A advocates a specific solution to the region’s homelessness and housing problems in the form of a property tax increase for government-backed low-income housing that supporters say could put a serious dent in San Diego’s homeless population.

Homeless advocates, Democrats, developers and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association have endorsed the measure.

Yet Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has made headlines outside San Diego for his status as a pro-housing mayor who has championed dramatic responses to homelessness, is opposed. So are the county Republican Party, the San Diego Association of Realtors and the Southern California Rental Housing Association.

Support for the measure, as the Union-Tribune reported this week, is particularly divided along partisan lines.

The bipartisan business and labor coalition behind March’s Measure C avoided getting specific about how to use homelessness funding, thus bypassing a roadblock that isn’t just tied to political affiliation.

The initiative deferred to future city leaders to dictate how the roughly $2 billion it projected to pull in for homelessness would be spent.

The campaign has said Measure C was written to allow future city leaders to make those decisions because the city’s homelessness needs could shift over the next four decades.

That was politically convenient. It also allowed the campaign to mostly avoid divisive debates about whether the homelessness money should be spent on subsidized housing, mental health services, shelters or other initiatives – decisions that people in the same political parties disagree on.

Yet the measure still fell short of the high two-thirds threshold historically needed to pass a tax increase for a specific purpose in California. Backers are now evaluating their options to argue it should have passed with a simple majority following state Supreme Court decision not to relitigate an appellate court ruling that effectively allowed a San Francisco citizens’ initiative to pass with a simple majority.

Ryan Clumpner, a consultant who has worked for political action committees including one supporting mayoral candidate Todd Gloria, said polling and focus groups in recent years have highlighted disagreements and confusion about specific housing solutions.

He recalled a focus group a couple years ago where a respondent said they were “tired of hearing about affordable housing” and that San Diego needed more low-income housing, not understanding that affordable housing is in fact low-income housing.

Another in the same group said San Diego should stop building apartments and condos they felt were too expensive and focus instead on building single-family homes at affordable prices, a concept that doesn’t pencil out in today’s development environment.

Clumpner said arguments like those complicate matters for policymakers.

“This is another widespread attitude that creates a disconnect between the policy discussion and public opinion. At present, it is impossible to build single-family homes at lower prices than multi-family housing,” Clumpner wrote in an email to VOSD. “Yet the same people who are deeply and sincerely concerned about the cost of housing often oppose policies that would reduce those costs because it does not fit with their nostalgic view of what types of housing should be affordable.”

Despite those differing perspectives, Stephen Russell of the San Diego Housing Federation, the affordable housing group backing the measure, said this week he is hopeful that two-thirds of city voters will sign off on the property-tax hike.

Over the past three years, Russell said, polling funded by the Housing Federation has consistently shown more than two-thirds of city voters would support the affordable housing bond.

Two EMC Research polls the group funded in November and May found 69 percent and 63 percent of likely city voters, respectively, believed building affordable housing was an extremely important or very important priority.

The Oakland-based polling firm also reported that 83 percent and 76 percent of voters it reached in November and May, respectively, said reducing homelessness was an extremely important or very important priority for them.

“Our goal is to take this longstanding issue and give folks an outlet that they can actually address it,” Russell said. “That’s the basic proposition of Measure A.”

An October citywide poll conducted for pro-Gloria PAC Neighbors for Housing Solutions, which agreed to share its results with VOSD, asked an open-ended question that underlined city voters’ appetite for solutions.

In the poll conducted by Washington D.C.-based WPA Intelligence, 20 percent of likely voters reported that the cost of housing and rent was the foremost issue they’d like to see mayoral candidates address, while 16 percent listed homelessness as their top concern – ahead of coronavirus, the economy and other issues.

Clumpner believes those results and others in recent years speak to an increasing openness to hear specific proposals.

“Voters are moving in the direction of more aggressive housing policies,” Clumpner said. “Issues that were non-starters just a few election cycles ago, like increasing the height limit around Sports Arena, are suddenly on the table.”

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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