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San Diego Council Committee Votes To Evaluate Affordable Housing

An apartment complex within the Civita development is pictured. The complex offers affordable housing to seniors.
Christopher Maue
An apartment complex within the Civita development is pictured. The complex offers affordable housing to seniors.

The San Diego City Council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to have staff study and report back on a series of proposals designed to alleviate San Diego's lack of affordable housing.

The San Diego Housing Commission presented the committee members with 11 ideas that would require government action at the local, state and federal levels.

The suggestions generally involve lowering costs for developers because government red tape often makes it more expensive to build affordable housing projects, according to building industry leaders.

Among the commission's proposals:

• setting annual goals for producing affordable housing

• providing incentives for developers to make at least 20 percent of their housing units affordable

• lowering parking requirements

• reducing requirements for ground-floor commercial space, which raises project costs

• shortening the time it takes to process permits and entitle properties

• supporting efforts to reform the California Environmental Quality Act

"The majority of all these, to me, make a whole bunch of common sense on how to get the cost down and so we can actually provide more doors and more units for people," Councilman Scott Sherman said. "That's been my whole bugaboo with the affordable housing from the very get-go — is it costs so much more than market-rate (projects), we can put so many more doors onto the market if we cut into the costs."

City staff was directed to come back in the near future with proposed ordinances, resolutions and lobbying efforts the help implement the proposals.

In a separate item, the Housing Commission proposed re-working the city's laws on single-room occupancy hotels, which often house the region's poorest residents. Over the last couple of years, the inventory of SRO units has dropped from around 14,000 to just under 4,000 — about two-thirds of them downtown, according to the commission.

Currently, an owner choosing to convert or demolish an SRO property has to pay relocation expenses for residents who've been there at least 90 days, and either replace all of the lost SRO units elsewhere or pay fee — though there are a few exemptions.

The proposed revisions would allow owners to build their replacement units outside of downtown as long as they're near transit, require them to replace only half the units and authorize them to sell SRO properties to the commission.

Wendy DeWitt of the Housing Commission said so many SRO property owners are paying in-lieu fees that none of the former units are actually being replaced, so asking them to just do half might actually maintain some inventory. Having the commission available as a purchaser would create a market for SRO buildings in shabby condition or located in undesirable neighborhoods, she said.

The proposals were informally referred to staff for further study, but without a committee vote.