Affordable housing continues to elude lowest wage makers
by Manny Lopez
Jul 03, 2012 | 2682 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For many San Diego residents, the words affordable and housing are contradictory terms. With very low vacancy rates, high unemployment, stagnant wages and rising costs for food, power and gas as major impediments, the prospects for many low- and moderate-income families look bleak.

On May 15, the City Council voted unanimously, with Councilwoman Laurie Zapf not present, to proclaim a continued state of emergency because of the severe lack of affordable housing in the city. Based on information provided by the City Clerk’s Office, the council has extended the state-of-emergency declaration 228 times since Aug. 6, 2002.

The original resolution states that the state of emergency shall be docketed for renewal every 30 days until the rental vacancy rate in the city averages five percent for more than two succeeding quarters. Since that hasn’t happened, the state of emergency has been continually renewed ever since.

But some, like Susan Tinsky, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation (SDHF) — a trade group for financial institutions, developers and others who provide services that complement the creation of affordable housing — believe that the actions of various City Councils over the years have weakened organizations like SDHF.

Tinsky pointed to a decision by the current sitting council to lower housing-impact fees assessed on commercial and non-residential land uses within what are called “enterprise zones.” Known as linkage fees, Tinsky said these are the primary revenue source for the housing trust fund, which is intended to produce more affordable housing. Enterprise zones were developed within certain geographic areas to create incentives for commercial endeavors and economic development.

Tinsky also said San Diego’s economy is very dependent on low-paying service sector and hospitality jobs. She added that a person working full-time and earning minimum wage would have to maintain at least four jobs just to afford the average rent before tax deduction.

“About 40 percent of our population is low income, and those are the folks that affordable housing serves,” Tinsky said. “A large contributor to the fact that we have a pretty large low-income population has to do with the type of economic sectors we support.”

A news story on May 13 reported that the average rent in San Diego currently stands at $1,361 per month, based on information provided by MarketPointe, a real estate data company. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “affordable” as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income, including utilities.

“There is a major mismatch between the wages that many of our sectors pay and the cost of living,” Tinsky said. “What ends up happening when that occurs is that people must make very difficult choices, which include commuting longer distances for work and sacrificing basic necessities.”

Todd Henderson, assistant director of the county Department of Housing and Community Development said it’s a very complex issue as to why housing isn’t very affordable in San Diego. He said one contributing factor has to do with the demand outpacing the available inventory.

“There isn’t a lot of available land to build new properties in San Diego,” Henderson said. “Therefore, any new homes being built — for the most part — are going to be costly and probably not within reach to your everyday citizen.”

Henderson said that with the disbanding of redevelopment agencies in California, financing for new projects has been greatly diminished. He said the future of affordable housing within San Diego is expected to get worse unless the legislature in Sacramento can figure something out.

Strategies that exist to address the city’s lack of affordable housing include a focus on projects within the city’s urban neighborhoods, where land to build already exists and an inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers of new projects to set aside 10 percent of a development of new units for low- and moderate-income residents.

Developers choosing to not set aside units can pay an “in-lieu” fee, which is transferred to the San Diego Housing Commission to help build affordable housing units.

Assistance programs for renters, first-time homebuyers and homeowners are offered through federal, state, local and nonprofit organizations.

Supplemental rental payments, publicly-owned housing, down-payment assistance programs and low-cost loans for developers are among several of the approaches used to provide those who are most in need of affordable housing.

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