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Sounding Board: Affordable Housing

The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. The Daily Transcript will engage community leaders in a dialogue and publish their comments. Readers' comments are also welcome. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

Daily Transcript Question: What specific steps must be taken by government and community leaders to assure there is an adequate supply of affordable housing throughout San Diego County?

The city needs to solve the infrastructure deficit by raising several million so we can increase density and create nice communities. Until we deal with the infrastructure deficit, we can't increase density in the urban core.

Until you build that up and show people that the neighborhoods can be nice, with schools and parks and nice roads, we're not going to have affordable housing.

-- Donald Cohen

Executive director for the Center on Policy Initiatives

I was the representative to the San Diego Housing Commission from the tourism industry and sat in on all meetings for one year. We need to give that working committee the teeth with which to get the job done.

A strong, respected community leader must present the findings of the committee and get feedback from San Diego leaders.

-- Robert Rauch

President of San Diego Hotel/Motel Association

Everything in San Diego is about supply. Affordability and housing prices are moving in different directions.

With restrictions like the MSCP (Multiple Species Convervation Plan), it is unlikely additional supplies of housing will happen in rural areas.

That leaves infill, smart growth, the city of villages concept and things that mean greater density. People who live in older communities would probably accept greater density if the infrastructure problems could be solved.

-- John Lomac

Executive vice president, San Diego Association of Realtors

Affordable housing is a function of supply and demand, density, fees, timeframes and regulatory burdens.

Builders have to pay too much in fees. When you are paying $60,000 to $70,000 a house in fees, how are you supposed to have affordable housing?

When you have years and years of delays, how are you supposed to have affordable housing?

San Diego has more interest in exporting its housing to Riverside County and now Imperial County than dealing with the problem.

I think we ought to take state and federal funding away from communities that don't develop their fair share.

-- Michael Pattinson

President, Barratt American Inc.

Increase the supply of housing in general. Elected officials must have the political will to approve projects at maximum density levels even over the objections of neighbors. Acknowledging the need for more housing in general is not enough. The elected officials must back their general support for increased density and affordable housing when specific projects come before them, again, even over the objections of neighbors. Many communities already provide for higher densities within their community and general plans, but in the face of opposition, projects are forced to downsize.

Require inclusionary housing units be built within proposed projects or within the community where market rate projects are built. Eliminate or increase the in lieu fee for inclusionary units, but incentivize developers with the reduction in other development fees for the affordable units.

Create a zone that allows rental housing but precludes for sale housing. The cost of land has made it too difficult for apartment builders to compete with condominium builders.

Streamline the discretionary approval process and the ministerial permit process for affordable housing projects.

Allow workforce housing to be collocated with employment centers.

Protect and encourage SROs.

Stop worrying about traffic; with increased density, critical mass of residential development will incentivize additional mass transit, and pedestrian activity. This cannot be done by increasing densities from 0-5 units per acre to 10 units per acre or even 29 units per acre. Such increases only exacerbate traffic problems. The critical mass necessary to keep residents out of their cars can only be achieved at densities of 75 or 90 units per acre and must be in areas walking distance to jobs and shopping.

-- Lynne L. Heidel

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory LLP (These opinions are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of the firm or our clients.)

Affordable housing cannot be produced without subsidies (in much the same way some homebuyers could not afford to purchase homes without the tax deduction subsidy -- that is, the tax deduction for mortgage interest). Why? Because land and construction costs are high, and it does not "pencil out" for developers to build homes that will sell or rent at below-market rates.

Government plays a role in subsidies. San Diego's Affordable Housing Fund, inclusionary housing in-lieu fees, and bond issuance are local resources. The state plays a significant role with funding sources such as the voter-approved Proposition 46 bond measure for the development of affordable housing as well as in issuing tax credits and other state programs. And the federal government, too, provides funding through programs such as HOME.

Community leaders can play a role in such matters by initiating housing trust funds, as well, as they did in Silicon Valley. Concern about recruiting and retaining employees in that high-cost region led business leaders to subsidize lower-cost home development. Locally, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce has done an excellent job in supporting affordable housing in our region.

Government can also help by doing such things as reducing processing time for affordable housing, as the city of San Diego has successfully done in its Housing Expedite Program. It can also enact land use legislation and provide other incentives -- such as bonus densities -- for builders to create affordable housing. (By the way, for those who assert that 26 percent of the cost of housing is due to government fees and impacts, the study which supported that theory is several years old and concerned Carlsbad only -- so is neither relevant nor true today.)

Housing prices have gone up 324 percent since 1996. That is because of supply and demand. When the demand for homes here is as high as it is, developers can price them as the market will bear. We live in a free market, after all. With years of continually rising prices behind us, there is no one simple solution to increasing the supply of more affordable homes. But I think the public-private partnerships established here have made an excellent start.

-- Bobbie Christensen

Director of Communications and Strategy, San Diego Housing Commission

Previous Sounding Boards:

Top Priorities (Sep. 7, 2005)

Initial Actions (Sep. 6, 2005)

Financial Remedies (Sep. 2, 2005)

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