Making the case for affordable housing

The senior housing complex at City Heights Square is an example of housing built to serve residents living on a modest income. Photo courtesy of San Diego Housing Federation

San Diego is a place brimming with diversity. Unfortunately, the diversity does not extend to the housing options from which families can choose. The hard reality is that we live in one of the country’s most expensive cities, especially in relation to the cost of housing. Yet, some of the region’s largest industries, such as service and tourism, tend to offer lower-paying jobs. The disparity between typical wages and typical costs makes for few viable housing options for San Diego’s hard-working families.

According to the Center for Housing Policy, a household in San Diego County must earn almost $46,000 annually to afford a one-bedroom apartment and $56,000 for a two-bedroom unit.

Across California, people and institutions are working to create more affordable housing. Like market-rate housing, almost all of the affordable housing that is developed today is built and owned by private entities — either by nonprofit organizations or private businesses and corporations. This differs from other low-income housing models that are built and operated exclusively by government.

Housing is considered “affordable” when it costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income. This includes both a household’s rent or mortgage and utilities. If a household’s income is $60,000 a year, “affordable housing” would cost no more than $1,500 a month for rent and utilities, thus allowing for the family to have sufficient resources to meet other needs.

Affordable housing is not just about looking after the well-being of families. It makes economic sense too. “In order to remain economically and socially viable, every community needs to offer a wide range of housing opportunities for the diverse populations that live and work there,” said Susan Riggs Tinsky, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation. “Teachers, nurses, restaurant staff, and maintenance workers – the folks that keep San Diego running – may be struggling to find and maintain housing that is affordable based upon their wages.”

For decades, the market has struggled to produce housing that meets the needs of the 40 percent of San Diegans who are considered low income. The situation became even worse in 2011 when the California Supreme Court issued an opinion which resulted in the elimination of redevelopment agencies, which were critical partners in creating affordable housing opportunities.

Redevelopment provided local governments with the funds to revitalize deteriorated and blighted areas. And under state law, redevelopment agencies were required to spend 20 percent of their revenue to build and preserve affordable homes. Over the decades, redevelopment yielded more than 15,000 affordable homes in San Diego County.

The affordable housing movement is organizing itself to propose legislation in 2013 that will address the gap left by the elimination of redevelopment. The California Home and Jobs Act will produce $500 million per year for affordable homes throughout the state. The money would be generated through a $75 fee on documents when they are recorded. Revenue will then be placed in the state’s fund for housing to support the development, acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation housing affordable to those with low-to-moderate incomes.

Residents can follow progress of the Act by visiting the San Diego Housing Federation’s website at housingsandiego.org, or californiahomesandjobsact.org.