By Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi / UrbDeZine
Instead of taking concrete steps to address the growing housing affordability crisis, San Diego has done nothing for years. Now, faced with nationwide criticism for its mishandling of a Hepatitis A outbreak that was caused by the mistreatment of a growing homeless population, city leaders are wondering what went wrong.
First, San Diego gave its public housing authority, San Diego Housing Commission, free reign to opt out of following federal laws aimed at protecting housing subsidy recipients. As a result, San Diego Housing Commission has and continues to create policies that adversely impact the low-income tenants for whom it receives federal funding to protect. One example: SDHC’s Community Choices program encourages low-income families to spend 50 percent of their income on rent.
Second, San Diego is allowing SDHC to implement Trump pro-segregation policies instead of requiring that SDHC follow the previous HUD Small Area Fair Market Rent Rule, which it still can do but is no longer required to under federal law.
As I stated in my August article, San Diego was among 23 metropolitan areas targeted by the Obama Administration to desegregate because of San Diego’s high concentration of Housing Choice Voucher Program participants living in concentrated, segregated low-income areas. In other words, San Diego was told to desegregate because San Diego’s leaders allowed San Diego to become so racially segregated. However, Trump suspended the mandatory implementation of the Obama-era desegregation rule.
San Diego could still have continued to desegregate but instead is allowing SDHC to further racial segregation. Read my letter to SDHC CEO Richard Gentry urging SDHC to continue desegregation efforts.
Third, San Diego has allowed SDHC to delay updating the Housing Choice Voucher Program (“Section 8”) payment standards. As a result, low-income families are forced to use housing subsidies that are based on 2015 market rents instead of subsidies that reflect current market rents. SDHC is preventing families from finding homes because landlords have increased rents over the past two years and SDHC is actively delaying updating voucher values to keep up with the increased rents.
Fourth, unlike similarly situated cities, San Diego has failed to pass effective local tenants’ rights ordinances. The city’s “Tenants Right to Know” ordinance, San Diego Municipal Code Section § 98.0701 et seq., is ineffective. Its drafters either did not understand how the judicial system works or were unaware of the practicalities tenants must address during evictions.
Despite being on the books for years, the city has failed to make the simple fixes that could make the ordinance effective – simply remove exemption § 98.0725(b) to afford all families the same protections under the law regardless of source of income and delineate the limited circumstances under which a tenancy can be ended for repair or construction work in § 98.0730(g).
Fifth, San Diego’s single room occupancy (“SRO”) ordinances are outdated and ineffective. If San Diego actually analyzed the impact SRO conversions, demolitions, and rehabilitations have had on homeless San Diegans, San Diego would significantly increase the financial and non-financial assistance provided to displaced tenants.
Sixth, San Diego has no “Ban the Box” ordinance. Unlike similarly situated cities, San Diego has no local ordinance that prevents discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, who are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Instead of removing barriers to housing for people with past criminal convictions, San Diego allows landlords to openly discriminate which exacerbates San Diego’s homeless crisis.
Seventh, San Diego doesn’t have a source of income discrimination ordinance despite these ordinances being enacted and upheld in court in jurisdictions throughout California. San Diego allows landlords and housing providers to refuse to rent to a person solely because they are on housing assistance, and permits landlords and housing providers to give preference to prospective tenants whose income is earned from employment as opposed to receiving a government subsidy.
Eighth, not only does San Diego not have rent control, it doesn’t even have an anti-harassment ordinance to prohibit a landlord or housing provider from failing to perform repairs, threatening to evict, abusing the right to access, and threatening the tenant with word or gesture. As similarly situated cities have found, an effective local anti-harassment ordinance is vital to protecting the rights of low-income tenants. State law is not sufficient.
These are some very basic and long overdue steps that can bring San Diego into the mainstream with similarly situated cities. Relative to other cities, San Diego is neglecting and ignoring its ever-expanding homelessness and housing affordability crisis. The above article discusses tenant rights — stay tuned for an article about how San Diego has failed to implement progressive housing development policies.
Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi had practiced poverty law across the State of California since 2010. She litigates cases in the public interest, with a focus on civil rights and affordable housing. She obtained her J.D. from the University of California—Davis School of Law, and her Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Michigan.
She currently serves as the Assistant Director of Public Service at University of San Diego School of Law where she directs the Pro Bono Service Program and helps the next generation of poverty attorneys launch their social justice careers.