By Georgette Gómez
When I joined the San Diego City Council in December 2016, one of my top priorities was to address the housing-affordability and homelessness crisis — our region’s most challenging long-term problem. The depth of the struggle for thousands upon thousands of families to find affordable housing or remain in their homes cannot be overstated.
In 2017, I introduced my Housing Action Plan, which laid out seven initiatives. One of them was my call for an annual inventory of rent-restricted apartments at risk of being converted to higher-cost market-rate homes.
After several years of hard work, I was thrilled on Tuesday to join with the San Diego Housing Commission in presenting to my council colleagues an exhaustive analysis — “Preserving Affordable Housing in the City of San Diego” — that takes stock of our current supply of affordable housing and identifies 10 strategies to preserve these low-cost units.
The critical need for affordable housing across our region is not news.
In District 9, a culturally rich and diverse section of San Diego that I am proud to represent, the average annual income for a family of four is less than $40,000. More and more, families are being priced out of their neighborhoods and forced to move further away from their jobs and schools. Or into cramped situations with other family members or friends. Or homelessness.
During the past decade, San Diego’s population has grown steadily. Coupled with an increasingly constrained supply of housing and new production unable to keep up with job creation, the growth has caused rents to rise rapidly. More than half of all renter households in San Diego — 54 percent — are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Low-income renters are hit the hardest. The housing-cost burden is a significant issue for many of these households, especially for the lowest-income renters, earning 50 percent of area median income or less.
As I noted in my Housing Action Plan, San Diego’s affordable-housing shortage cannot be addressed simply by building new units — we must also ensure that our existing affordable homes remain accessible to low income San Diegans.
During the 11-year period before I introduced my plan, more than 1,300 federally subsidized affordable homes in San Diego were lost due to Section 8 rental-assistance contracts expiring and property owners deciding not to renew. Another 1,371 were at risk of converting to market rate within five years.
Preserving our supply of affordable rental housing, whether these homes are “deed-restricted” (required to be rented at below-market rates) or “naturally occurring affordable homes” (affordable at market rates) will enable people to stay in their homes and their communities, many of which are quickly gentrifying and slipping out of reach even for families who’ve lived in them for generations.
According to the study that we presented, “In 2000, approximately 91,900 units (72 percent of the city’s rental multifamily housing stock) were affordable to very low-income households earning less than 50 percent of [area median income]. In 2020, only 25,900 units are projected to be affordable to very low-income households — a 72 percent decrease (66,000 units) in the very low-income unrestricted housing inventory over 20 years.
“If units continue to be lost at this pace,” the report continues, “very low-income households will need to increasingly rely on a limited supply of deed-restricted affordable units. By 2040, only 8,300 units are projected to remain — a further decrease of 19 percent.”
As the study makes clear, we can preserve our existing supply of affordable housing by extending covenants on deed-restricted units, taking steps to ensure that we know sooner that affordable units are at risk, and converting naturally occurring affordable apartments to deed-restricted housing.
While I was growing up in Barrio Logan, my family sometimes had to live in other people’s homes. I know what it feels like to not have a home of my own. I want to make it so far fewer people in San Diego know what that feels like.
That’s why I was proud to lead the effort to create affordable housing through an update of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance late last year. And that’s why it’s so gratifying, as I approach my final six months on the City Council, to play a role in this new plan to preserve affordable housing.
Georgette Gómez is the President of the San Diego City Council. She represents District 9, and is running for Congress in November.
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