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Housing Crisis Shifts Conversation On Where New Homes Belong

Construction crews work on a 24-unit apartment building in North Park, July 23, 2019.
Andrew Bowen
Construction crews work on a 24-unit apartment building in North Park, July 23, 2019.
The San Diego Association of Governments is scheduled to vote on how to distribute more than 171,000 homes throughout the county. Many cities and towns are being asked to plan for far more housing than ever before.

Lois Sunrich has weathered the San Diego region's affordable housing crisis better than many. The 72-year-old retiree lives in a modest 400-square-foot studio in Encinitas — the kind of housing the city doesn't build anymore.

Sunrich ran a nonprofit that collected stories from local residents — rewarding work, but not the kind that allowed her to save much for retirement. Faced with an ever-thinning budget, she considered selling her home — paid off years ago, thanks to a patron — and moving into a subsidized rental apartment.

But in Encinitas, where roughly 80 percent of the city's land is zoned for single-family homes, such affordable housing is nearly impossible to find. It's even harder to build.


"We have created laws that have made it more difficult for us to build housing," said Sunrich, who since her struggles has become an affordable housing advocate.

State officials have determined San Diego County must plan for the construction of 171,685 new homes through the next decade. Deciding where all that new housing will go is the responsibility of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

VIDEO: Housing Crisis Shifts Conversation On Where New Homes Belong

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And the methodology SANDAG has come up with to guide that decision has already generated controversy among some city leaders who, if the plan is approved, will have to zone for many more homes than they’ve ever had to before.

The mayors, city council members and county supervisors who sit on SANDAG's board of directors are scheduled to vote on the methodology Friday.


Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who helped draft the methodology, said previous housing allocation processes have allowed cities — including her own — to shrug off their obligations to plan for enough housing.

"The state perceives that that is what has created the housing crisis," she said. "We have a lack of supply of homes because so many cities have said, 'We're not interested in more homes here. We got ours. We're going to close the door after us.'"

SANDAG's proposal, which must be approved by the state, gives each city a score based on two factors: jobs and transit. Cities that have a lot of both get the highest allocation of housing, with the goal that more people be able to live near transit — or if they must drive to work, that their commute be relatively short.

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Officials in National City, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove have all expressed displeasure with the methodology, saying it pushes more housing into historically lower-income communities while giving more modest allocations to wealthier North County cities.

That is partly true — Oceanside, Carlsbad and Encinitas would each be assigned fewer homes than in previous allocations. But so would El Cajon and Chula Vista. Del Mar and Solana Beach, meanwhile, would have to more than double the housing they previously planned for.

But no city would see a greater disruption to the status quo than Coronado, which would have to plan for 1,001 homes. Its previous allocation in 2010 was just 50 homes. The city has exceeded that overall goal, issuing permits for more than 300 homes through last year, though it has not met its goals for low- and moderate-income housing.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said the draft methodology fails to acknowledge that some of the jobs in his city are actually overseas military jobs only technically located on the town's Naval bases. And, he said, Coronado has land use authority over only a fraction of its overall land mass.

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"Many cities have already stepped up, including Coronado," Bailey said. "And so I think it's important that we take a look at what cities have already done historically (to build housing) and make sure that all the cities throughout the region are stepping up to do their fair share."

Blakespear said while the methodology would give Coronado a larger share of the county's housing needs than in prior decades, the number is a correction to the massive imbalance of housing and jobs in the town.

"I think that every city has their particular reason that they think their number should be different and lower," she said. "Part of it is trying to come up with a methodology that is fair, is explainable to the public (and) that the state will accept."

Sunrich, the retiree in Encinitas, said local officials have to stop treating housing as a burden and instead embrace it as a necessity for their constituents. She said if the status quo continues, only the rich will be able to afford to live in the communities where they work.

"We're going to be segregated, we're not going to all come together and live together," she said. "And I'm really not wanting to have that kind of city as my hometown."