Homeless tents on 16th Street in downtown San Diego. File photo by Chris Stone

By Marissa Tucker-Borquez

Most San Diegans think homelessness is getting worse and they say the city is to blame. The coronavirus pandemic makes homelessness even more of a concern for public health. We need solutions now and half-measures have failed us. San Diego should — and can be — a place where everyone has a place to call home.

Measure A presents a solution for homelessness. It would build 7,500 apartments for low-income people in the city, which is more than our current homeless population of approximately 5,000. Measure A would not only help provide permanent housing to help homeless individuals get off the streets, but help other poor residents from ever falling into homelessness in the first place.

In addition to the homeless, some 25% of San Diego households are extremely “low income” or “very low income,” with incomes ranging from zero to 50% of area median income. There are less than 45,000 rental units available that are affordable at this income level, but more than 120,000 households. Measure A will help address this problem as well.

The strategy behind Measure A works and saves money. Funding mental health, addiction, and other social services is more effective when the recipients of these services have a roof over their head. Measure A would help provide these roofs. Instead of spending endless amounts of money on ambulatory services and policing the city’s homeless, we can give people lasting help and put them on the path to self-sustainability. Housing is the foundation of our lives; it is everything.

Some argue that Measure A will increase property taxes and put greater financial stress on homeowners during the COVID-19 crisis. This is a bad-faith argument, or at best a half-truth crafted to deceive San Diegans. Here’s the real deal: Measure A will increase property taxes, but the increase in property value will be even higher, delivering a net increase for homeowners. From a purely economic outlook, helping homeless veterans, seniors, and poor San Diegans will actually boost property values in the city.

Marissa Tucker-Borquez

The measure will also provide services so individuals at-risk never become chronically homeless, and don’t become trapped into a cycle of poverty. It will help create housing for those that have been priced out of living in the city. Our seniors and veterans living on fixed-income cannot keep up with the escalating rents in San Diego. If we don’t do something soon, they can end up losing their homes.

Now is the time to take bold action. It is the time to create a prosperous San Diego for everyone. Measure A’s $900 million price tag is an investment, not a taxpayer liability. Providing housing for our most vulnerable citizens will make San Diego worthy of the title of America’s Finest City. It will provide good jobs, good homes, and save some residents from losing the homes they already have.

With funding running out for the Golden Hall and Convention Center shelters, Measure A is the right solution for the right time. Otherwise, people are going to be put back onto the streets in the middle of a global pandemic. If the Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego has taught us anything, it’s that half-measures will only cause more harm and cost even more money in the long run.

Measure A is the full measure we need. Creating affordable housing will keep our veterans, senior citizens, and poor residents safe. It will allow them to stay safe in their own homes, slowing the spread of COVID-19. Doing so will help our businesses stay open.

Government funding of social programs and investments is fickle. By approving Measure A, San Diego can use the bond funding to leverage its spending to receive more money from state and federal programs. If San Diego spent more on subsidized housing, the state would increase it’s contributions to our city.

We are 8 percent of the state’s population, but we only get 5 percent of its funding for housing services. That money will eventually be spent elsewhere, so why not try and bring as much of it as possible to San Diego? We deserve it.

Current services do not have a stable funding source. Housing and homeless services are funded through a variety of revenue sources that are not sustainable and can wax and wane. The best solution is to create a guaranteed pool of money that can withstand the ups-and-downs of the economy. Measure A won’t just fund homeless services, it will create a stable source of funding for them. Nothing could be worse than seeing a successful program fail because the revenue stream is not there.

Measure A has one of the broadest coalitions in the city. It’s endorsed by San Diego County Taxpayers Association, progressive groups like YIMBY Democrats of San Diego, labor unions, developers, and everything in between. Measure A is the solution we need right now.

I write this through the lens of a housing advocate. But everyone can agree that homelessness is one of the biggest issues in the City of San Diego. Whatever your belief about how the city should best proceed, the status quo has not worked. Our nonprofits, charities, and the clergy have done amazing work assisting our homeless population, but it is not enough. We need a bold strategy and a bold new direction.

We are not Los Angeles. We are not San Francisco and the Bay Area. But one day soon we may get there. Funding Measure A will help San Diego avoid the slow-march towards high-rents and high-homelessness. The cost of Measure A now will be nothing compared to the total costs over time it will take to continue to fight homelessness and housing affordability in the city.

There is a place for everyone here in San Diego. If we continue to push poorer residents further and further away from the city, commutes will lengthen, the poor will be trapped into a cycle of poverty and homelessness, and our senior citizens and veterans will lose the homes they’ve worked so hard for. That’s why we need a “Yes” vote on Measure A.

Marissa Tucker-Borquez is president of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County.

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