A low-income home under construction in El Cajon. Photo by Chris Stone

An “anti-housing” environment in California is one of the biggest hurdles to keeping the San Diego economy growing.

That was the conclusion of a panel on Thursday organized by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce as part of its new regional jobs strategy.

Matthew Adams, vice president of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, said the problem is that “we’re not building enough houses to meet the demand.”

Matthew Adams and Sue Reynolds

He said regulation, community opposition, and the high cost of land and labor are combining to create the problem.”We have an anti-housing environment from Sacramento on down,” he said.

Sue Reynolds, CEO of the nonprofit housing developer Community Housing Works, agreed that there is effectively an anti-housing environment in the state. While her organization is helping low-income workers, she said there’s little being built for middle-income families.

“We can’t produce a new unit that a $50,000- to $60,000-a-year family can afford just by taking the profit out,” she said.

Both Reynolds and Adams said that what housing is being built now in San Diego is primarily for high-income buyers.

Panelists also discussed challenges in workforce development, citing a low participation rate among women and difficulties faced by veterans and youth.

“Veterans are natural leaders,” said Sean Mahoney, a retired Coast Guard officer who is executive director of  the Zero8Hundred veterans organization. “At the same time, they’re really focused on the team…They are not good at blowing their own horn.”

Angela Titus, executive vice president of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, said San Diego women often don’t fit into traditional, male-dominated workplaces because of the need for flexibility with children and care giving.

“They’re leaving the traditional workforce but going to the gig economy,” she said.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership is funding programs to help “disconnected” youth at risk because they lack work experience.

“Jobs are the solution,” said Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the partnership.

He said his organization is encouraging companies to hire interns to provide work experience for youth, with every position helping to make a difference. “If you’re a small business, just bring on one person,” he said.

Last year the chamber began an initiative, with over 50 organizations participating, to coordinate efforts to increase employment in the region.

“This really brings us to a shared vision of job creation in the region,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the chamber. “And we’re talking about all the way from Baja to North County.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.