The people who need housing the most –namely those without– have been shafted again.
Having an affordable and safe place to live shouldn’t be as hard as it is in San Diego. Excuses are made, studies are promised, politicians pledge to take action. And the situation gets worse by the day.
A handful of stories published in the local press in recent weeks taken together highlight just how bad things really are. I have two thoughts on the subject: excuses are for losers, and housing ought to be treated as a right rather than a goal.
A fall ballot measure providing funding for construction of 7,500 places to live for people who are unhoused or in danger of having to live on the streets has been shelved.
The political will to make this happen doesn’t exist. Officially, advocates for the measure are saying they hope to see it on the 2020 ballot when there will be a more favorable political atmosphere and less competition from other ballot measures.
From Lisa Halverstadt’s story in Voice of San Diego:
San Diego has in recent years seen a surge in homelessness and experienced a housing crunch that has forced some to move elsewhere or onto the streets. A deadly hepatitis A outbreak that battered San Diego’s homeless population underlined the crisis – and the cost of inaction.
Yet while other California communities have in the past few years passed funding measures to bankroll more housing and homelessness solutions, San Diego hasn’t. Regions that can put up more of their own money can often pull in more state money or increase the impact of the state money they receive. Advocates have been particularly focused on two statewide November ballot measures that could raise about $6 billion for housing and veteran home loans.
“It is disappointing,” said Russell, who said his group would campaign for the housing-focused state ballot measures. “There’s a desperate need for affordable housing but we need to make sure we have the best chance for success.”
I get it. They have to say these things in the hope those supporting the more “important” ballot measures appearing on the November ballot will be willing to back a measure for funding housing next time around.
This, of course, is bunk. It’s how San Diego has historically avoided issues not related to lining the pocketbooks of the very important people who call the shots in this city. Faced with the political realities presented to them advocates for homeless and low-income San Diegans undoubtedly believe they have no choice.
I would argue there’s a better than 50/50 chance–even without Dear Leader driving our economy off a cliff–of a recession by 2020. This is simply the way capitalism works. The historic cycles of boom and bust now have ‘trickle down’ as an added feature.
The basis for the consumer economy –a thriving middle class–is disappearing, being replaced with a servile class, dependent on the whims of overlords who offer living paycheck-to-paycheck as a reward for good behavior.
I can’t point the finger at the individual backers of other measures headed for the November ballot because it’s ‘nobody’s’ fault.
It’s not the fault of supporters for expanding the Convention Center (hey, they even threw some homeless services bucks into their deal.) It’s not the fault of the “it won’t cost the taxpayers” proponents of the assorted Mission Valley schemes. It’s not the fault of the San Diego Unified School Board, hoping to raise $3.5 billion to improve school safety, technology and infrastructure via a bond measure.
Not one person among all these groups would ever be caught dead publically saying they opposed funding for 7500 homes. They didn’t have to. Without political and financial backing –despite polling showing overwhelming public support– such a measure was doomed. So they kept their mouths and their wallets shut.
There was no coalition or even more than a few of the people advocating for these ‘important’ ballot measures saying the needs of our city’s unhoused humans should be the top priority. The ‘crowded ballot’ argument was most relevant to all the wishes of those supporting these other measures.
I can’t let a column about housing issues pass without mentioning Nico Calavita’s op-ed not long ago in the Voice of San Diego.
Calavita –who now lives in the Bay Area–was chair of the San Diego Housing Trust Fund Board of Trustees and co-founder of the San Diego Affordable Housing Coalition.
He starts off debunking the currently popular narrative about San Diego’s housing crisis, noting the self-serving nature of the “over-regulation, impact fees, red tape and NIMBY” excuses for the developers who benefit from them.
Then we get a peek at one of the proposed (now on hold) responses to the housing crisis:
And now, worst of all, we have the proposed middle-income housing regulations, the main component of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s housing plan called HousingSD. With them, developers would be allowed to increase the number of units on site by 25 percent in exchange for setting aside 10 percent of the total units to be affordable to households at 150 percent of the city’s median income — which is $118,950. In addition to the density bonus, developers would receive other incentives, such as reduced parking ratios and setback requirements.
At the affordable rent standard of 30 percent of household income, rent for a two-bedroom apartment produced under the mayor’s proposal would be approximately $3,000 — exceeding current market rate rents. These “middle income” households are already being served by the housing market, making an incentive program for this income group unnecessary.
How do we get to the point where this kind of a garbage proposal was considered a politically viable plan? It’s simple. The developers’ math on the economic viability of the plan was used without question.
During a discussion of expedited processing for development plans at a City Council meeting I attended last year, an astute Council member asked the city’s planning director where certain requirements had come from. The answer? “Developers had done analysis and came back and told us that higher requirements would not financially pencil out.” Councilwoman Georgette Gomez’s response? “I have an issue with staff proposing policies without having the proper data. It is not the right way for us making decisions for the sake of developers telling us what to do.” There was applause from the audience. There was silence from the rest of Council.
Speaking of Councilwoman Gomez, she’s leading a righteous cause to get legislation prohibiting discrimination against people receiving Section 8 assistance.
More than 15,000 low-income households receive Section 8 assistance through the San Diego Housing Commission. The wait to receive such assistance can be as long as 8-10 years, so it’s not like people are going through a drive-thru to get vouchers. And holders of those vouchers aren’t protected by state law that prohibits discrimination against tenants based on income source
From the Times of San Diego
The proposed code amendment would block landlords from rejecting applicants based solely on voucher status, though they would still retain a right, based on other rental criteria, to choose residents who don’t use subsidies.
Studies have found that prohibiting income-based discrimination leads to increased neighborhood options for residents and decreased segregation.
“Protecting our families on Section 8 from discrimination is important for reducing unneeded barriers that already exist, especially in this tight market we’re facing,” Gomez said. “We’re asking that landlords give Section 8 tenants a foot in the door. That’s all we’re asking — to evaluate them in the same way as someone who doesn’t have Section 8.”
Opponents claim Section 8 requirements are an unworkable burden on landlords.
More than 5,200 landlords participate in the Housing Commission’s Section 8 program, and 68% rent to only one voucher-using household.
At a hearing before San Diego City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, Housing Commission President and CEO Rick Gentry, refuted the opposition arguments, noting “So if we had an onerous process I fail to see how two-thirds of over 5,000 landlords would participate for just one unit.”
What this really comes down to is yet another mechanism for keeping San Diego’s housing stock segregated, especially when you consider that voucher values have remained unchanged since 2015, despite skyrocketing rents.
From the Union-Tribune:
More than 85 percent of the 36,000 people in San Diego who have secured federal vouchers are minorities, and the vast majority of them live south of Interstate 8.
San Diego would be following the lead of San Francisco, Santa Monica and several other cities by passing such an anti-discrimination law, which would only force landlords to consider applicants with vouchers, not require them to be chosen as tenants.
Finally, let’s take a look at San Diego’s almost homeless humans.
San Diego’s ordinances on RV parking restrictions were the focus of a demonstration at South Mission Bay on Monday.
People forced by circumstances to live in their vehicles were protesting enforcement policies that all-too-often have resulted in the impoundment of their possessions.
Disability Rights California, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Dreher Law Firm and other legal groups filed a class-action lawsuit last fall claiming city policies violate civil rights.
Ann Menasche, a senior attorney with Disability Rights California, will be in Federal Court on Thursday asking for an injunction on RV citations until the case is decided.
From the Union-Tribune:
“We are here today to demand that the city immediately instruct its police to stop issuing these tickets, stop the impounding of RVs, stop throwing people onto the sidewalk, and that the city end this callous injustice now,” she said at the Monday press conference held at the South Shore boat launching area near Sea World, where many RVs park. “Let me make clear that the city’s policies created this housing and homeless crisis we are facing, and its affecting more and more San Diego residents each and every day.”
Recalling the morning their RV was impounded, Stark said she and her 77-year-old husband, Gerald, also a plaintiff, had no place to go and rode their bicycles to look for a place to rest.
“We’d sleep in an alley,” she said. “An alley isn’t a place for a 77-year-old man who has worked his whole life.”
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