San Diego Again Loses Out In State Affordable Housing Grant Program
Monday, June 22, 2020
Photo by Andi Dukleth
Affordable housing projects in San Diego won’t be getting any funding from a state program meant to support low-income housing and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) grant program is funded by the state's cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to buy permits to burn fossil fuels. Five projects in San Diego County applied for the grants, but none is recommended for funding.
Projects in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, however, are recommended for more than $400 million, nearly three-quarters of the program's total for this year. The funding awards are scheduled to be voted on by the state's Strategic Growth Council on Thursday.
Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing and public transit, issued a report in January detailing San Diego County's poor performance in competing for the grants. The report recommends better coordination between affordable housing developers and local governments on their applications.
The group's executive director, Colin Parent, said San Diegans are paying into the cap-and-trade program and therefore the region deserves a share of the AHSC funding.
"It's only fair that every region gets an equal amount of participation," Parent said. "I think that's especially true for the San Diego region that really stepped up this time and brought some real resources to bear to make some competitive applications."
Parent added that the Strategic Growth Council also prioritizes affordable housing being near heavy rail stations — of which San Diego County has relatively few.
One local project that applied for the grant program is in Clairemont at 5255 Mt. Etna Drive, the site of a former Sheriff's Department crime lab that county officials have made available for affordable housing development. Carlsbad-based Chelsea Investment Corp. has plans to construct 404 units of low-income housing there.
Chelsea sought roughly $20 million from the AHSC program to support the housing and another $10 million to improve the surrounding area's bike, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure. But its score fell just short of qualifying it for the program's limited funds.
Anne Wilson, director of development at Chelsea, said she was disappointed the project was not recommended for funding, especially at a time when San Diego's affordable housing and homelessness crises are getting worse.
"The only way we can fix that is by building larger affordable housing projects and building them faster," Wilson said. "And without (an) AHSC award, this is going to slow things down and be very difficult to build in the scale and size that we need to solve these problems."
Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and member of the Strategic Growth Council, said the Mt. Etna Drive project would have gotten a better score if its application had included the purchase of new electric buses, rather than buses that run on compressed natural gas.
Capretz also said the council plans to reevaluate its guidelines and criteria for the AHSC program this summer and will consider changes that would distribute the funding more evenly across California.
"I really wanted to help get resources down to my hometown, that's one of the reasons I participate," she said. "But I also want to tell our local community that there are some things we could improve in."
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