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Faulconer Wants San Diego To Go From ‘No’ To ‘Yes’ On Affordable Housing, Helping The Homeless

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer during an interview on his new plan to get mo...

Photo by Amita Sharma

Above: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer during an interview on his new plan to get more affordable housing built in the city, Jan. 29, 2019.

GUEST: Mayor Kevin Faulconer, city of San Diego

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Transcript

Q: Give me the bullet points of your plan to get more affordable housing built in San Diego.

A: First and foremost it's about saying "yes." It's about saying yes to more housing throughout the city, but particularly focused in our transit priority areas. And my focus right now is to remove those barriers, remove those restrictions, to say no to the constant NIMBY movement to say yes to quality housing that San Diegans can actually afford. And so we're doing several things that are going to be a sea change. We're going to make more of it by right. We're going to be moving height restrictions for housing that is affordable in our transit priority areas. We’re going to be increasing density in those areas with a real focus on making it by right so you don't have to constantly go through all of the bureaucracy and struggles that make housing not exist sometimes, because people fight it and make it not affordable.

Q: What percentage of new housing needs to be low-income in order for the city to meet all of its housing needs?

A: If you look at the total numbers that we are short, the number is about 55,000 units. And of that, 24 percent needs to be affordable. That’s why these policies are so important to actually get those units constructed, to not just nibble around the edges but to have a complete overhaul that changes the status quo so San Diego families, our working families, can actually afford to live here.

Reported by Matthew Bowler

Q: The affordable housing shortage has been ongoing in the city. You’ve been at the helm in San Diego since 2014. Why pitch this proposal now?

A: It's time. We've spent a lot of time on really trying to streamline the process in terms of cutting the time that it takes to go through permitting, to go through processing. And we've made a lot of positive changes, but it hasn't been enough. We haven't made the dent that we need. And as I said, it really is a combination of so many factors: the folks that don't want any changes and the folks that say, "I do. I just don't want it here." And so I've said we need to have a comprehensive approach that provides those incentives that actually get the units constructed, and where they should be along transit areas so people can get out of their cars and use transit. It's going to help with our climate action goals. Let's do what we should be doing.

Q: California's new governor, Gavin Newsom, has threatened to withhold transportation dollars from cities that don't do enough to build new housing. Did that threat play a role in the drafting of this plan?

A: No. There are a lot of various state proposals happening right now. I've really asked, what is it that we need to do and what actions can we take at the local level to actually make the production of more housing and affordable housing a reality? And so, as I said, it's not enough just to do additional streamlining. We have to get rid of the anti-housing bias that stops so many projects from even starting. That's why I'm asking for a very significant change in how we do this, with that focus on transit areas throughout the city to actually get the housing construction so that San Diegans and our kids can have a place to actually live here should they want to.

Q: As you've already said, your proposal includes the elimination of height restrictions on new housing development near transit and the elimination of minimum parking requirements on new housing near transit. Some people say that is just a giveaway to developers. Is it?

A: No. It's about creating housing that we can actually get constructed, with that emphasis on affordability. You know there have been plenty of homes for folks on the upper end of the spectrum. We need to do more to actually construct homes for working families or folks that are just starting out. We're doing so much on our innovation economy here in San Diego. Those folks have to have a place that they can actually call their own, a house or apartment that they can buy, rent. That's what's been missing. You cannot make a dent if you don't increase the supply and do it in areas that make sense, along transit corridors. And so that's why I think we've tried to say we're going to make a sea change in how we do this but we're going to be smart about it.

Q: How much pushback are you expecting from both the public and the city council on those two points?

A: You get pushback with anything you propose when you want to make changes. But as I said very clearly, the status quo isn't working. The issue of housing and homelessness, those are the top issues facing the entire state of California, particularly us here in San Diego. And I've said we're going to change what we've been doing. Business as usual is not working. And so I'm putting forth policies that I think are important for us to do and to do now. It's not about Republican or Democrat; it's about what's the right thing that we should be doing for San Diego to increase that housing supply and do it in the areas that make sense. I realize when we’re talking about changes like this, change is never easy. The status quo isn’t working.

Q: How vital is the elimination of those two requirements to your overall housing plan?

A: It's a combination. They're all important. And as I said, it's about density in the areas that it makes sense. It's about making a lot of these changes so you don't have to go through some of the endless delays and the endless bureaucracy that unfortunately stops too many projects from happening. We need to say, “Let's have that conversation.” Let's say, “Here's where we want the growth and density.” And it is just as important as, “Here's where we don't.” But then let's make the policy so you can actually get it done and get it constructed. And if you don't do that, then we're not going to achieve what we all want which is the availability of housing that we can afford.

Q. What does your plan say about where California is right now vis a vis housing?

A: I think our plan shows how incredibly needed this is now. We need to take action. When I gave my State of the City speech a couple of days ago, I said we need to make bold movement and if we don't do that, we're not going to achieve where we need to go as a city. So far, you know the conversations and the support has been very positive. But I'm under no illusions that anytime you want to make change, you're going to have somebody that doesn't want to change that status quo. That's okay. To do nothing is not what I'm about.

Q: There's talk in Sacramento right now about the possibility of putting in place an anti-gouging rent cap as a way to stabilize rent. Where do you stand on that?

A: I haven't seen that proposal. We'll see what some of those specifics are. But I do know that rent control stops the ability too often to construct new housing, and what we need is new housing so San Diegans can afford it, so Californians can afford it. We need to incentivize and increase the production. That's what my proposals have been all about, to say, “Here's where we want it. Let's make that decision and let's do it." Let's not have the constant back-and-forth and let NIMBYs and let frivolous lawsuits stop people from getting a house, to stop people from being able to move into an apartment that they can afford. I'm real proud of the work we're doing on economic development here in San Diego. Growing good quality jobs, attracting new jobs to San Diego. People have to have a place to live. If we don't do that, if it's unaffordable, we're not going to have the progress that we need.

Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten from other mayors across the state?

A: I was just in Washington D.C. last week with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Every city in California is facing housing and homelessness. Those are the issues. Every mayor, to a one, knows that we have to do things differently. Again, that's not a partisan issue. We've got a lot of strong support here in San Diego for what I've proposed. Other mayors are looking at not only what we're doing, but have some other good innovative options. I think what you're seeing is the realization that we have to change if we want to have housing that Californians and San Diegans can actually move into.

Q: What have the other mayors actually said to you?

A: Oh, they've said, “Saw what you're doing. Like it.” Some of them have been tweeting out encouragement. That's what we want. And you know, every city is going to have to come to their own solution. But I will tell you that when you look up and down the state, the issue of housing that folks can afford, working families, that's the No. 1 thing that we have to work on. All of us do. Again, Democrats and Republicans.

Q: The vacancy rate at San Diego's new apartments is around 37 percent, as of September. What does that tell you?

A: You know, we need apartments at all income levels but we need a particular focus on apartments that are affordable. And so when you look at that and the absolute shortage that we had, the waiting lists that we had, that's why actually constructing units next to transit so people can have that option is what we absolutely have to do for the future to get those units in places where San Diegans want them and where they can afford them.

Q: In your state of the city address, you also proposed additional help for the city's 5,000 homeless people. Tell me about that.

A: Again, what I've said is we have to take action. Too often, government waits too long. Again, the forces of NIMBYism who say, “I want more homeless services, Mr. Mayor, but I just don't want it right here.” So we have to change that. And so the work that we've been doing is very aggressive in terms of bridge shelters that have gotten 700 people a night off the street, storage locations for personal belongings, our new housing Navigation Center with the city and the county working together to provide wraparound services that's going to open here this year. Every single one of those was fought by people in those locations, that did not want to see that happen. What I've said is, "It's time for action and to back that up with services with locations." You're always going to get pushback. But leaving a veteran, leaving a family on the street, outdoors in an unsafe and unsanitary condition, is not what we're about. And so there’s a sense of urgency, a sense of action. There's always gonna be some folks that don't want that to happen. I appreciate that. But I'm tired of listening to every person going back and forth on reasons why you shouldn't be helping. I’ve said, “No! We’re going to be helping.”

Affordable housing plans rarely steal the spotlight at California’s city halls. But San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s unveiling of his vision last month to build more units that people can actually buy or rent has been called ambitious and the most aggressive in the state.

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