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Ten Years Out, Affordable Housing Still Lacking In San Diego

Ten years ago today, the San Diego City Council took action to make it easier to build affordable housing developments. But a decade later, housing advocates worry the city has lost its focus. And they say it’s time to make affordable housing a priority again.

Aired 8/6/12 on KPBS News.

Affordable housing advocates in San Diego celebrated an anniversary today. But they are also using the day as a call to action.

City Heights Square, Senior Community Center's affordable senior housing
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Above: City Heights Square, Senior Community Center's affordable senior housing

The call came as the activists marked the 10-year anniversary of the San Diego City Council's adoption of the "Inclusionary Housing Ordinance,'' in which 10 percent of units in housing developments are to be made affordable to low-income residents. Developers can pay a fee instead, with the money going toward affordable housing programs sponsored by the city. Nearly 2,000 affordable apartments have been created as a result of the act, according to the San Diego Housing Federation.

But not everyone has been lucky enough to get an apartment. Single mom Patricia Bird is one of at least 30,000 people waiting for affordable housing in San Diego. She said she’s applied at 15 different developments over the past four years and has been told it’ll be another four years before she gets something.

"Affordable housing will provide my children a safe and clean environment. One where I would not have to worry about mice and roaches because of the landlord’s neglect," she said. "There has been a lot of new affordable housing development here in the barrio, but it’s not enough. Many families are still waiting for housing."

Recent changes mean those families may have to wait even longer. Susan Riggs-Tinsky, the executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, said many of the measures put in place 10 years ago have been eroded. Housing advocates are also scrambling to find other funding sources now that their largest source of funding, redevelopment agencies, have been eliminated by the state.

Tinsky said she hopes the incoming council will recognize the problem.

"The City Council has been very focused on fixes to the pension and creating a better Balboa Park and things like that," she said. "And our hope is that this incoming council will be able to refocus its efforts now that it has some of those issues dealt with and will be able to prioritize affordable housing over some other, less immediate issues."

Among their requests, housing advocates want San Diego to increase fees commercial developers pay that go toward affordable housing. The fees have not been increased since 1996. Advocates also want San Diego to spend $3.6 million of any former redevelopment money returned to the city by the state of California on affordable housing, ease parking requirements for low-income housing and implement recommendations of an Affordable Housing Task Force from 2003.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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