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San Diego City Council Committee Hears Suggestions To Address Housing Crisis

San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez speaks during a council meeting, ...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.

A San Diego City Council committee on Wednesday welcomed suggestions that would help alleviate the city's affordable housing crisis as thousands of units are at risk of converting to market rate homes over the next few years.

San Diego County lost more than a thousand affordable units over a roughly two-decade period because of expiring agreements to provide subsidized or low-cost rent. The City Council also voted in March to allow demolition of a Rancho Penasquitos housing complex in order to make way for a new building, Pacific Village, that will offer 149 fewer low-income units.

RELATED: Rancho Peñasquitos Housing Development Clears City Council

San Diego Housing Federation's Stephen Russell said the number of lost affordable units could nearly double over the next five years.

Russell testified about the status of affordable housing before the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee. He said the city should establish a preservation coordinator dedicated to tracking expiring affordable units and informing those property owners about their options.

"Experience has shown that the best most successful preservation activities take place when there is direct human contact between the agencies and the owners to discuss what their options actually are," Russell said.

Russell said owners should also be provided more technical assistance regarding affordable housing regulations and the city should divert additional funding toward preserving affordable housing units.

Many speakers who addressed the committee recounted their experiences being evicted from units with expiring affordable housing credits; some mentioned foregoing food or medicine to pay for rent.

Committee consultant Keryna Johnson presented strategies to avoid residential displacement, which is when a household is forced to relocate because of conditions beyond its control. Such conditions may include increasing rent prices, which can lead to homelessness.

Johnson proposed protecting Section 8 residents under the umbrella of other tenant protection ordinances. She also suggested a Section 8 anti-discrimination ordinance to make it unlawful for landlords to turn away voucher holders.

Johnson also recommended drafting an ordinance that would give apartment residents first right of refusal when their homes are converted to condominiums, and which would also require landlords to compensate displaced residents.

"Preventing resident displacement can mean ensuring they have a cushion to transition to a new home. If we don't prevent it, that can put the burden on the city and our neighborhoods," Johnson said.

Laws requiring that cities provide legal counsel to tenants experiencing no-fault eviction have also proven cost-effective for municipalities that would otherwise spend money combating homelessness, Johnson said.

The Wednesday meeting opened with public comments about rent control before the items on affordable unit preservation and resident displacement prevention were even discussed. Some landlords said rent stabilization would actually exacerbate the problem but the leader of San Diego Tenants United said the move is desperately needed.

A spokesman for the committee's chair, Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, who represents City Heights, said her office will continue to work with stakeholders to transform ideas into actionable items.

No action was taken during Wednesday's meeting. The committee will continue discussion of affordable housing in May.

The San Diego City Council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee hosted discussions Wednesday intended to alleviate the city's affordable housing challenges.

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