Mike Stetz 2018-02-05 01:31:29
A growing number of people, including developers, environmentalists and stressed-out renters, are saying, ‘Build, already.’ The new coalition is beginning to make progress. Here’s San Diego’s housing reputation, as found on the website Reddit: “[Housing] is the main reason I’m moving away from SD. I suspect a lot of people in the next generation will move away too since it’s insanely expensive and most won’t be able to afford it.” And: “Pretty soon it’s going to just be one big retirement community. I don’t know how half of the people that live here afford it.” And one more: “I’m a GenX and my gen are mostly gone.” Is it any wonder everybody is freaking out about housing? The above is just a snapshot of the anger and frustration people are feeling about housing costs in San Diego. And those costs are predicted to keep rising. This isn’t affecting only new residents hoping to call San Diego home, said Lori Holt Pfeiler, who chairs the executive committee of Housing You Matters, a non-partisan coalition that advocates for housing affordability. Got teenagers? Can you see them being able to buy in San Diego when they become young adults? Sure. If they play for the Padres … “Our children can’t afford to buy homes,” Pfeiler said. “And rent is high too. We have children living with their parents into their 30s.” Yes, by now, we all know the story. We don’t have enough new housing to keep up with demand. And so, prices keep rising. And U-Haul is looking more and more like a promising company to invest in. Is help on the way? Yes, it is, even though the jury is still out on how effective reforms will be. However, there is at least one element of the current effort that shows promise: It’s not just the same old cavalry, riding up. Developers and environmentalists – who have had their differences in the past – are finding common ground in the push to build more housing faster and in a denser fashion. Environmentalists have been leery of developers because of their penchant to, well, develop. In cases of projects that were poorly planned, that has led to sprawl. Developers argue that environmentalists have a penchant to, well, attack any and all projects because they have unrealistic expectations when it comes to growth. Some growth is necessary, the developers say. Particularly now. And now developers and environmentalists are teaming up – at least those with similar philosophies regarding how to move forward. For instance, Housing You Matters has members from the Climate Action Campaign as well as from the Building Industry Association of San Diego on its executive committee. “It’s a huge coalition of people,” Pfeiler said. “There is this growing awareness that more and more people simply can’t afford homes.” And thankfully, it’s causing action. Pfeiler noted that the city of San Diego is implementing a host of reforms, including efforts to streamline what builders say is a daunting and expensive development process, as well as allowing for greater density in return for more affordable housing units. San Diego’s new density rewards exceed the state’s rewards. Housing You Matters was formed soon after a 2015 study by Point Loma Nazarene University was released. The study showed that about 40 percent of housing costs in the San Diego region were related to regulatory obstacles and delays, Pfeiler said. That’s even before a builder hammers in one nail, she noted. If that much cost is going into housing-related bureaucracy, it doesn’t leave a lot wiggle room for affordability, she said. Incentivizing affordable housing “Bad news all around not only for young millennials, but everybody in between. I think a lot of people would move out of SD if they had the chance, and were able too if they could, but I know many people here that are stuck in a situation where their family keeps them here, or their job, or even the inability to afford to pack up and go.” — A comment posted on City-Data.com Colin Parent, a young professional, knows people who are struggling with housing costs. Many are, like him, making decent livings. Some of them are not-so-young professionals and still struggling. Lori Holt Pfeiler of Housing You Matters says “Our children can’t afford to buy homes, and rent is high too.” “Most renters I know are dealing with high rents,” said Parent, executive director of Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit that advocates for better land-use and transportation strategies. “And they go up every year.” It comes with costs, Parent notes. “We’re losing very talented people,” he said. They are moving away to less expensive locales. Parent is seeking solutions. He organized a working group to craft San Diego’s new Affordable Housing Bonus Program, which allows developers to increase density by as much as 50 percent in exchange for providing affordable units. State law allows 35 percent added density in such instances. The City Council unanimously approved the local plan in 2016. Already, it’s showing promise, said Parent, who recently did an analysis of the plan’s initial progress. Eighteen market-rate developers have submitted applications under the new program. By comparison, 36 market-rate developers in San Diego got density bonuses under the California version of the plan between 2005 and 2016. On a per month basis, that’s a 900 percent increase. The new program is expected to produce 12 affordable units per month, compared to the former program, which saw only 2.5 units per month. It will produce nearly 30 market-rate units per month, compared to the 2.5 the city saw under the older density plan. Parent was not surprised by the findings. “I was a believer in doing this kind of a program,” he said. “I’m very pleased.” Housing affordability goes beyond putting roofs over people’s heads, he said. It has great impact, particularly on climate issues. If people seek housing in other areas of the county – and beyond – they need to commute farther. And that increases emissions. Parent said adding density, particularly along transit corridors, promotes mass-transit use and cuts down on car reliance. “The key piece of the program is to allow people to live closer to their work and near transit,” he said. One incentive to such projects along transit corridors is a lower threshold for required parking spaces. That’s appealing to developers, because it gives them more land on which to build. The city’s new program protects existing neighborhoods, Parent stressed. It would be impractical for a developer to attempt to use the density bonus on land that’s zoned for single-family homes, for instance. It would take too much effort to have the property rezoned, and the project would likely face all sorts of community pressure. “It’s narrowly tailored,” he said of the program. “It’s not going to change the character of the neighborhood.” However, it could bypass one stumbling block, and that is density limits in community plans. At times, they can be quite restrictive. While there is a push for them to be updated, it will take years to do so, and adding density is no given. Projects under the Affordable Homes Bonus Program can be implemented in such communities, though. Parent said it is paramount that such steps be taken. “We have a housing crisis,” he said. The developers’ challenge “There is barely any land that is undeveloped anywhere near the beach. They are cramming some new condos in Mission Valley but for San Diego beach areas that is about it. Unless the airport gets moved or [Camp] Pendleton becomes available people will choose from older housing stock.” — Another post from City-Data.com This is what developers have been complaining about for years. Where can they build? Since buildable land is in short supply, they need to do more infill projects that are taller and denser. But some of those projects get shot down, particularly by community members who don’t want to see their neighborhoods’ character altered and, in some cases, environmentalists who argue that higher density can bring ills, such as more car traffic. Look at One Paseo, the mixed-use, dense development planned for Carmel Valley. The San Diego City Council initially voted 7-2 to approve the plan, with many members saying it was an example of smart growth. Nearby residents rebelled and started a petition drive to force the issue to the ballot. One environmentalist joined a lawsuit against the project, arguing that there wasn’t enough transit to support such a dense project and that the development would stress the region’s imperiled water supply. The lawsuit became moot when the developer agreed to scale back the project after the petition drive got enough signatures to put it on the ballot. Development is a tough game. For one thing, there are a host of costs, from land acquisition to construction to development fees. Developers rely on lenders to fund these projects, but they won’t lend unless the projects pencil out. By adding density, a project can become more lucrative, since the developer can provide more units on the same amount of land. Some developers applaud the city’s move to allow more density, but they say other obstacles still remain, particularly the lengthy permitting process. “We believe that this density award plan is very helpful. However, what we really need is to expedite the development permitting process,” said Matthew Segal of the awardwinning development and architectural firm Jonathan Segal. It can take between 10 and 24 months to get through the public discretionary process, he said. That’s triggered if the project does not meet land development codes, such as proper setbacks. “Community review and slow development permitting is the true culprit of exorbitant housing costs,” Segal said. “Rarely does community review lead to a better product. If we cannot get development permits, then we cannot build market-rate or affordable housing.” Parent said the Affordable Homes Bonus Program does not require such a review if the zoning is appropriate. However, if a builder is attempting to build a multi-family project on a property that’s zoned commercial, that would trigger such a review. He agrees with Segal that slow permitting is a major driver of housing costs. The city has implemented reforms in this area, including speeding up the review process for some projects. In addition to adding density, a number of other options need to be explored to help attack the crisis, said Phil Bona, president of the American Institute of Architects, San Diego Chapter. He believes denser projects need to be built throughout the county, including in suburban communities that have thus far been cool toward them. Denser projects would not disrupt current community character but would be near transit centers and major bus stops, he said. Accessory dwelling units – better known as granny flats – could offer relief as well, Bona said. California and San Diego, have loosened restrictions on them. Bona said as many as 195,000 single-family lots have the space to add a granny flat. Mind-sets need to change as well, Bona said. We’re perfectly willing to see a 10-story project in the East Village, but that kind of project also should be considered for other neighborhoods, such as North Park, he said. “The bottom line is that we need to build more housing,” he said. The median price for a starter home in San Diego in 1995 was $178,000, Bona said. By 2050, if prices continue to rise, the median will be as high as $1.2 million. Ideally, a household should pay about 30 percent of its income for housing. To meet that goal in 2050, a couple would need to make $25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year. Nicole capretz, the executive director of Climate Action Campaign who also sits on the executive committee of Housing You Matters, called her organization’s participation in affordable housing advocacy a “no brainer.” Where are the YIMBY’s? “I am really really sick of older posters who assume that real estate woes boil down to lazy, greedy millennials who demand more than they ‘deserve.’ Buying up, slowly over the years is a great philosophy but there are huge differences between someone graduating college in 1992 and getting their career started in a very different San Diego housing market than someone graduating in 2002 or 2012 with a truckload of debt, poor wages that have not kept up with inflation a housing market that has been dominated by investors and old people.” — From City-Data.com That last comment? That kind of anger is causing a housing revolution in San Francisco, where millennials are organizing and demanding that the city approve housing projects ASAP. They are part of a growing force called YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard), as opposed to NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard). YIMBYs argue that they should have a say in what kind of development is appropriate for their communities – and they typically argue against increased density. A local case in point would be the residents of Clairemont who fought against raising height limits near a proposed trolley station. They said the denser projects that would result would be inconsistent with the neighborhood. The city relented. In San Francisco, the movement attacks environmentalists who fight projects for reasons the YIMBYs find suspect. For instance, a developer hoped to raze a parking garage to make way for more housing. The local Sierra Club voted to oppose it, saying the property was historical. Andy Lynch, a YIMBY journalist who attended the meeting, was in disbelief. “The evening was a crash course in delaying and opposing development,” he wrote in The Bay City Beacon. YIMBYs are keeping a careful watch of housing initiatives and supporting them, regardless of whether they include affordable units.They support a really odd concept: growth. They want the housing stock to rise. In an article in the online magazine Grist called “Enviros and Developers: A Love Story,” the author notes the frustration felt by one YIMBY: “It’s this idiotic thinking where the environment you are trying to protect gets worse and worse because you are waiting for some perfect solution to be delivered from God or the revolution or something. It’s monstrously unethical.” Nicole Capretz, the executive director of Climate Action Campaign who also sits on the executive committee of Housing You Matters, called her organization’s participation a “no brainer.” “We are involved because housing and transportation are key elements to reducing greenhouse gases, especially if we can allow people to live closer to where they work and offer viable alternatives to driving alone to work,” she said. She noted that almost 90 percent of San Diegans drive to work alone because of sprawl and the lack of mass transit – thus contributing to the region’s greenhouse gas emissions. Promoting density “will lead to healthy, happy and affordable neighborhoods that are bike, walk and transit friendly,” Capretz said. Housing activist groups are beginning to form in San Diego, as well. One movement, San Diego Tenants United, is calling for rent control. Because rents keep going up, longtime residents are being displaced, the group argues. Apartment owners disagree, saying that if rent control were in place, builders would be discouraged from building more apartments, just worsening the current shortage. Parent said he’s seen an uptick in young people who are interested in what Circulate San Diego is doing when it comes to housing. “It’s happening,” he said, “but it’s a bit less robust than compared to San Francisco.” And why is that? The average rent in San Diego for a onebedroom apartment is $1,782, according to the website Rent Jungle. In San Francisco it’s $3,377. “Our rents are bad, but they’re not as bad as San Franciso’s,” he said. If they increase, he expects local activism to increase as well.
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