A floor plaque inside the Vista Civic Center, which serves as the city of Vista's City Hall. / Photo by Tigist Layne
A floor plaque inside the Vista Civic Center, which serves as the city of Vista's City Hall. / Photo by Tigist Layne

A Vista developer is converting a former motel into cheap housing – at $1,300 a month per apartment, they’re about 40 percent below the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a city where rents are increasing among the fastest in the county. 

But the 75 units in the new single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel would be just 375 square feet, leading some residents and elected officials in the city to criticize the project for not being cheap enough. 

The Vista City Council last week approved the conversion of the Motel 6 near Highway 78 over the objections. As an SRO hotel, the rooms would become more like apartments with six-month lease requirements for tenants. 

The developer, Vista International, Inc., has highlighted that the project is a low-cost housing option for renters in the city. The units would be rented at a market rate around $1,300 to $1,400 per month. But some residents and councilmembers criticized the project’s claim of lower cost housing, arguing that it is overpriced considering what tenants will be getting – a tiny studio apartment in a building that will be renovated, but not newly constructed. 

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras and Councilwoman Katie Melendez voted against the project, saying residents would pay too much for the small rooms they’re getting, and arguing that the project should have a rent cap, which is not possible since it is a market-rate project, not one with rooms reserved for low-income residents relying on public subsidies.  

The city also does not have an inclusionary housing requirement, meaning the developer is not required to include a certain percentage of low-income units in the project. 

On the other hand, Councilman Joe Green said the project fills a need in Vista’s increasingly expensive housing market. 

“If you’re providing a product that is $1,100 to $1,300 per month that two people can live in, that is a product that is not in Vista right now,” Green said. 

Some residents agreed, saying during the public comment portion of the meeting that though rents could be lower, the SRO will still help those families that can’t afford the rent anywhere else in the city. 

Vista International has opened 14 similar apartment buildings statewide. In San Diego County, the company has opened three SROs in El Cajon and plans to open more in El Cajon, Oceanside, Escondido, Chula Vista and Rancho Bernardo.  

SROs had largely disappeared from American cities for the past few decades, but have started re-emerging over the past few years as rent continues to skyrocket nationwide. Proponents of the model say it’s another option for lower income families and, in El Cajon, has even proven to reduce crime in the area, said city staff. 

“The Housing Element has policies on providing housing that’s available to all segments of the community, which includes affordable housing, which includes low-rent housing, which includes higher end market-rate housing,” said Community Development Director John Conley. “This provides housing that’s available to a segment of society that may not be able to afford a full luxury market-rent apartment.” 

The complex also has a swimming pool, a tennis court and will soon have about 130 parking spaces. It will also undergo renovations and each unit will be fitted with a kitchenette.  

The council approved the project 3-2, with Contreras and Melendez opposed.  

In Other News 

  • Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who is running for the 38th State Senate seat, is being called out by her Republican opponent Matt Gunderson for declining his public challenge to do a series of debates before the upcoming November elections. Blakespear’s campaign manager said she would not debate Gunderson until he took a more explicit stance on abortion rights. (Coast News) 

Tigist Layne

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@voiceofsandiego.org...

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