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San Diego City Council To Vote On Middle-Income Housing ‘Bonus’

The Civita housing development in San Diego, June 30, 2017.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: The Civita housing development in San Diego, June 30, 2017.

San Diego City Council members Monday advanced a proposal that aims to boost the production of middle-income housing, as the city struggles to correct a longstanding shortage of homes.

The proposed middle-income housing density bonus would allow developers to build more homes on a parcel of land if they agree to reserve a portion of them for middle-income earners. The bonus would apply only on land within a half-mile of major bus and trolley stops — so-called "transit priority areas" where the city hopes to focus its growth and development.

Members of the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee were generally supportive of the plan, which is part of Mayor Kevin Faulconer's package of housing policy initiatives branded "Housing SD." The city already has a density bonus program for low-income housing.

Some public commenters expressed concerns that the middle-income program could "cannibalize" the density bonus for low-income housing, further exacerbating the shortage of homes that are affordable to the working poor. They also suggested the program could displace low-income families by accelerating the gentrification of poor neighborhoods.

RELATED: SANDAG Board Asks State To Lower The Bar On Housing

Most experts agree San Diego's housing crisis is largely due to a jobs-housing imbalance: The region's economy is growing, attracting more workers and encouraging people who grew up here to stay, yet local governments are failing to permit enough new homes to keep pace.

Several studies have suggested most San Diego renters are paying more than what they can afford for housing. Homes are considered "affordable" when they cost a household no more than 30 percent of its income.

Matt Adams, vice president of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, said the middle-income housing program would provide a huge boost to San Diego's goal of reducing costs by increasing the supply of homes.

"There's no public money involved in this program, you're simply easing the regulatory burdens, giving some flexibility and increasing density," Adams said.

RELATED: San Diego's Housing Crisis Squeezing The Middle Class

City staffers originally proposed limiting the definition of middle-income housing to the affordability threshold for households making between 120 and 150 percent of the area median income. Several members of the public said the minimum of 120 percent should be eliminated to include more moderate-income families.

Councilman David Alvarez echoed those concerns and said he hoped the program would combat the segregation of rich and poor.

"I would like communities in other areas, particularly wealthier communities, to make sure that we're also allowing for those mixed-income types of developments," Alvarez said.

City staffers agreed to reconvene a working group that helped draft the program to incorporate feedback from the committee, including a provision that would strengthen the requirements to replace any subsidized low-income apartments lost to the program. The item is scheduled to go before the full City Council on June 26.

San Diego City Council members Monday advanced a proposal that aims to boost the production of middle-income housing, as the city struggles to correct a longstanding shortage of homes.

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