Chris LeFall spends time with his daughter
Chris LeFall spends time with his daughter, Nevaeh, at Greg Rogers Park in Chula Vista on March 9, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

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Chances are you know that San Diego is an expensive place to live. Rents across the region rose almost 30 percent last year, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a home, good luck finding one. The number of homes on the market has decreased by as much as 80 percent since 2018, according to some counts.  

But that’s not all. The cost of utilities, childcare, food and other basic necessities are all on the rise. Our team at Voice of San Diego dedicated this week to exploring the specific ways these burdens are impacting residents. We heard from families across the county about their bills, and what it takes to survive here. 

Here’s what we learned.

The Numbers Are Stacked Against San Diegans 

While San Diego’s home prices are among the top three in the United States by most measures, median income is not. San Diego’s median household income — at $85,507 per year — is below that of many other metro areas. 

We spoke to four individuals who agreed to break down their family’s monthly spendingto get a picture of how they’re making it work.  

“You have to roll with the punches,” said Christopher LeFall, a father of two and a full-time student who lives in Chula Vista. “You have to put one foot in front of the next and just keep moving.”  

Of the families we spoke with, all told a similar story: Getting by comfortably in San Diego is becoming more and more a luxury that only the ultra-wealthy can afford. 

Read more about the families we spoke with and see their budget breakdowns here

Section 8 Is Not the ‘Golden Ticket’ It Once Was 

Daniel Palmer, 61, a tenant of North Park Towers with his dog DJ in North Park on March 15, 2022. Palmer has a Section 8 voucher but has seen a 90 percent rent increase. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

Lisa Halverstadt spoke with North Park resident Daniel Palmer who received a Section 8 voucher eight years ago after more than a decade of waiting. He moved from his car into a one-bedroom apartment, but now risks losing his home. 

“I’m heading toward homelessness,” Palmer said.  

The 61-year-old was notified earlier this year that his rent would increase by 90 percent — from $1,025 to $1,950 come April 1. The San Diego Housing Commission signed off on the rent increase after a formal request from his landlord. He’s now bracing for an eviction notice. 

In her story, Halverstadt explains why a regional housing shortage that spawned those surging rents and home prices has also spawned booming demand for rental assistance and subsidized affordable housing.  Even San Diegans who receive Section 8 assistance or live in affordable housing — two much-wanted resources sometimes considered golden tickets — are feeling the pinch, she writes. 

Read more about why housing subsidies can’t keep pace with surging rents here

Transportation Costs Are Often Overlooked 

Housing costs and transportation costs go hand-in-hand. And together, writes Andrew Keatts, they make an already-unaffordable housing situation even worse.  

This week Keatts documented the difficult decision tens of thousands of San Diegans make to move out of the county and commute back for work. But money spent on cars and driving isn’t always the biggest cost facing those fleeing local housing prices. 

The Lopez-Beltran family moved to the city of Murrieta due to the high cost of living in San Diego. Dohney Castillo (far right) commutes daily to his job at Republic Services in Chula Vista. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

“More than that, it’s my family,” said Dohney Castillo, a sanitation worker who commutes from Murrieta to Chula Vista every day, missing out on time with his girlfriend, 4-month-old daughter and stepdaughter who just started high school. “Those two to three hours on the road every day, without them, it’s changed my mind. I’m looking for something in the area.” 

According to researchers, the typical household in San Diego spends 57 percent of its income on housing and transportation alone — the fifth highest of any region in the country.  

Read more about the stats and the overlooked cost of transportation here

We’re Paying More for Water Even as We Use Less 

Yes, you read that right. San Diegans are using less water, but the costs we pay continue to rise. 

That’s because it takes a lot of infrastructure to get water from the Colorado River, and we pay for that infrastructure based on how much the region sells to San Diegans that use it.  

Except, San Diegans are using less water than they used to. That means the cost of maintaining the infrastructure is going up, while the money the region makes from selling the water is going down.  

MacKenzie Elmer explains it best in a story about why costs have crept up and what some in the region think San Diego should do to alleviate the growing burden of water costs on the local ratepayer. 

Related: If you’re interested in learning more about utility costs, Elmer also broke down every charge on your gas and electric bill and explained why your bill is likely higher these days. Read that here

Childcare is Hard to Come by 

Finally, we looked at childcare availability in San Diego. For an infant and toddler, full-time care can cost an average of between $16,000 and $20,000 per year, but finding a spot isn’t easy. 

Scott Lewis found that San Diego only had enough licensed care to serve about 40 percent of working parents before the pandemic. About 10 percent of those options have since closed, and many more have yet to re-open. 

Sophia Rodriguez’s husband Dan plays with toy swords with their 4-year-old daughter while he holds their 10-month-old son at home in Chula Vista on March 8, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

“We’re seeing intense burnout for moms, for families who are struggling with stress every day,” said Kim McDougal, executive director of the YMCA Childcare Resource Service. “That kind of chronic stress can lead to negative outcomes for mental and emotional wellbeing. That kind of stress can impact children their whole lives.” 

Of all the parts of San Diego’s cost-of-living crisis, the access to, and affordability of, childcare, seems like the one we could most easily address, writes Lewis. But so far, policy solutions are falling short and some of them may make the situation worse.    

Read more about the state of childcare in San Diego and proposed solutions here

Read These Comments 

  • “I don’t understand how utilities for a condo could be $439. I charge an electric car and my highest SDG&E bill has been like $140, and water is like $120 every two months.” – danhansmoleman 
    • “It’s doable! My utility bill is on average anywhere from $200-500 in a single bedroom apartment. I am disabled and my medical devices require a lotttt of extra energy. Unfortunately, $439 for a condo with two kids isn’t that absurd. Those types of bills happen.” – littlemopeep1 
  • “I would love to read a story on all the massive luxury apartment developments in Mission Valley and the wasted opportunity, given the prime location, to make them at least partially affordable. Instead, they are mini-resorts with prices to match. Whatever happened to regular garden-style apartments with a small pool and a gym? Basic, middle-income housing.” – Catherine MacRae Hockmuth 

If you appreciate this reporting and want to show your support, consider giving today as we try to raise $150,000 to continue public service journalism. Also, a reminder that we have a free texting group! Get texts directly from me and our reporters about their work by texting VOSD to (619) 762-2654 or sign up here

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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1 Comment

  1. Here is what I don’t understand, inflation notwithstanding. When I arrived in San Diego 56 years ago, residents appeared frugal, and few drove modern cars and had fancy TV’s and other gadgets. We were the children of the Greatest Generation. Inflation was low back then and despite an affordable cost of living, most folks did not splurge. In today’s society by contrast, people seem to all drive fancy cars, eat out at trendy restaurants and buy all kinds of electronics. Then they complain of affordability in San Diego. I don’t get it since I worked cleaning toilets upon receiving my BA from SDSU in 1982. Smiechowski candidate D2 SDCC 858 405 5118 to volunteer

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