10,000 homes, more high-rises, fewer rules: County, city commit to new housing goals at rare joint meeting

News Date

Article by  David Garrick. Click here to read this article on The San Diego Union Tribune. 

SAN DIEGO —  City and county elected officials committed Monday to jointly build 10,000 units of subsidized housing on government-owned land, shrink regulatory barriers to housing construction and explore allowing more high-rise projects.

The unanimously approved commitment came during the first joint meeting in more than 22 years of the San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Members of the two elected panels said the regional housing crisis is impacting the economy, homelessness and social equity so severely that a joint meeting was needed to set an example of cooperation and leadership.

“This housing challenge we face is bigger than any one jurisdiction can solve alone,” County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said.

The move comes after years of friction and lack of cooperation between the county and the city on a variety of issues, most notably the Hepatitis A health crisis five years ago. New leaders on both panels have vowed to change things.

“We must continue to build on the collaboration that our two governments have started,” Councilmember Jennifer Campbell said.

The 10,000 subsidized housing units county and city officials want built would make a dent in the 172,000 overall units San Diego County government agencies must build by 2030 to meet state goals.

Because virtually all the 10,000 units are expected to be for low-income residents, the pledged units would make a much larger impact on the target 69,000 low-income units the region must build by 2030 to meet state goals — 42,000 units for very low-income residents and 27,000 for low-income residents.

The city and the county aren’t pledging to have all 10,000 units be on county and city land. Subsidized units built on any public land, whether that of a school district or a smaller city, would count toward the goal. So would 3,000 units that have already been built or begun construction on government land.

To meet the 2030 goal for new housing units, an average of 12,000 new units must be built each year. That means annual production must nearly quadruple from the 3,046 units built in 2021.

Councilmember Joe LaCava said using government-owned land is a key strategy, because the No. 1 driver of local housing costs is the expense of buying scarce land suitable for development in San Diego County.

Monday’s joint meeting, which took place at San Diego State University, included a presentation by the nonprofit San Diego Foundation on government-owned land ripe for housing development.

A recent comprehensive survey by the foundation concluded that there are 503 such properties that total 2,400 acres.

Meanwhile, leaders of the city’s Housing Commission said Monday they are exploring new policies that would allow more high-rise and mid-rise subsidized projects on the 175 properties the commission owns.

Most of those properties are developed with one- and two-story projects that don’t use the land to solve the housing crisis as well as more dense projects would.

Mayor Todd Gloria didn’t attend the joint session, but he sent an aide to let the two panels know he supports their efforts and is open to new housing solutions.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed Monday’s joint commitment by the city and county, urging both government agencies to focus on softening regulations and providing “gap” financing to help housing projects become financially viable.

Neighbors for a Better San Diego, an advocacy group for single-family homeowners in the city, said it’s crucial for both governments to lease land for housing projects instead of selling the land to developers.

“Don’t give away your land — that’s your leverage,” said Geoff Hueter, the group’s leader.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said Monday’s meeting was not just symbolic, but substantive.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who spearheaded the idea with Elo-Rivera, said future joint meetings are likely.

“I think this is a really powerful step forward and something we should continue in the future,” he said.