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San Diego's housing crisis: How we got here, where we're going

 October 26, 2021 at 2:55 PM PDT

Speaker 1: (00:00)

San Diego's housing crisis. Isn't

Speaker 2: (00:02)

New many points in our history. We had too many people and too few houses, so there's nothing new,

Speaker 1: (00:08)

But can we solve it this time around I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Jade Hyman. This is KPBS mid-day edition. Today. We bring you a special on San Diego housing. Why it's been a problem for generations? Why our neighborhoods are built around freeways and why racial discrimination has left a lasting mark on our communities. One study that

Speaker 3: (00:37)

I found showed that from a sample of deeds from 1910, through 1950, every single one of these deeds had a racially restrictive.

Speaker 1: (00:47)

We'll also explore the way San Diego is at last, trying to solve its housing crisis. That's ahead on midday edition.

Speaker 4: (01:02)

How the history of San Diego's housing and development led us into the current housing crisis. I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen cabinet. This is a KPBS mid-day edition special It's Tuesday, October 26th.

Speaker 1: (01:28)

Last month. Governor Newsome signed a suite of bills meant to address California's affordable housing crisis and ushered in a new era of housing development.

Speaker 5: (01:39)

This ain't a bad legislative year in the state of

Speaker 1: (01:44)

Among those bills was Senate bill nine, authored by state Senate, president pro tem, Tony Atkins of San Diego, which eliminates traditional single family home zoning and allows lot owners to build duplexes. And more though questions remain on how big an impact the zoning changes will have on San Diego's housing crunch. The fact remains, this is a pivotal moment for San Diego housing with the median home price currently standing at $740,000. And with a median of single family homes, even higher home ownership is out of reach for many San Diego ones, but the economic impact of SB nine is rivaled by the cultural shift this may have for the county long before the million dollar home prices and affordable housing shortage of today. The single family home became the primary focus of San Diego's development from seaside military town to suburban paradigm here to talk with us about San Diego's housing past is Roger Sholay, former San Diego union Tribune reporter who covered growth and development and a lifelong San Diego. Roger, welcome.

Speaker 2: (02:56)

I'm very glad to be with

Speaker 1: (02:57)

You now. Housing and high prices are not exactly new for San Diego. It's a recurring theme in the region's history, isn't it?

Speaker 2: (03:06)

It certainly is. In many, many points in our history. We had too many people in to who you houses, skyrocketing prices, lots of speculation. So there's nothing new under the sun.

Speaker 1: (03:18)

Has the median price been in line with the national average ever recently?

Speaker 2: (03:24)

Well, I looked up this, look this up one time and discovered the 1970s about the last time that the San Diego housing price was about the same as this national media previous to that, it was below the media and, uh, ever since it's been above and currently, and for many years has been among the top five most expensive housing markets in the country.

Speaker 1: (03:46)

Did it come to pass that the single family home became the defining model for San Diego housing?

Speaker 2: (03:52)

It's been the it's really been the model since the beginning of the time. Uh, at least from the colonization from the Spaniards, because they all moved into old town after they were at the Presidio. And those were single family homes. And from 1769, til the present a single family homes have been the go-to kind of housing type in San Diego, we were never attended type of a city like New York city apartments never became a major player until I guess, 1930s or so. So, uh, this is historically San Diego is development type and the suburban development effort will work to just make that bigger everywhere.

Speaker 1: (04:33)

Can you tell us a little about San Diego's development, particularly around world war two? And why do people come to San Diego in that era?

Speaker 2: (04:41)

Well, I go back even further than that, San Diego always wanted the grow growth was a model of the boosters from the 1860s till till the 1980s, seventies, I guess you could say, of course, what happened in world war two was that San Diego became a major defense industry center on the west coast. And as the us government buildup up to world war two and in a rearming of, of the armed forces, San Diego became a center of aerospace production at that time. And around 1940 many jobs were being offered here. But the housing led behind that at San Diego was a called a defense city. And, uh, we had what was called a blitz boom of huge numbers of people moving to San Diego for these jobs before we entered the war, but no place to live. And there were many attempts to try and deal with that. Some of the people ended up living in trailers, parked in Balboa, parking on other places and just sort of this informal housing development took place until the federal government funded several housing projects, including the most significant. And so what this is Linda Vista

Speaker 1: (05:51)

And can we still see those houses in Linda Vista to this day,

Speaker 2: (05:55)

If you drive around Linda Vista, you can see all these duplexes and single story buildings along Linda Vista road and other places. And those all derive from that, uh, federal effort. I forgotten how many thousands of units they built. It was like an instant city built in 19 41 42. No,

Speaker 1: (06:17)

Uh, San Diego is population grew, I guess, after world war II, how did the city and county respond to this

Speaker 2: (06:24)

San Diego dealt with that through very forward-looking planning in the thirties, even before the war period, there was a great deal of planning going on about where should San Diego build, how should it be, how should it be laid out? And that's when the origin of our freeway system was created. Uh, as you see it today, I have the report from that time and it's just amazing how forward-thinking they were to say, we need to grow it. We need to go this direction. We'll have, uh, parkways and freeways going this and that. And that's how people will be spread out throughout the region. And that went on for a couple of decades. And then we started to develop north county, east county and south bay. And those three directions of, from the center of San Diego. And while we had liberal hamlets along this coast for decades, the real big subdivisions were started in 1950 to 1975, or so

Speaker 1: (07:19)

The transportation lines of freeways and roadways for cars to travel and not public transport. That was the way that the city was developed with no idea for any real kind of public transportation at all.

Speaker 2: (07:34)

Of course, we did have a three-car system up until 1949, but it just couldn't keep up with development. They were all privately owned by the way, the bus system and the streetcars were a privately owned, not owned by the public and they just didn't have the wherewithal. And the means to expand ahead of demand. So a federal government with subsidizing freeways was able to build ahead of growth.

Speaker 1: (07:58)

Was there any consideration given to more concentrated, more urban development?

Speaker 2: (08:04)

No, that was not even in the realm of planner or I shouldn't say the general. Public's thinking everybody wanted to live in a single family home, the federal government and lending policies by banks and so on favored single family homes over both our family housing with special mortgages and of federally subsidized loans. You know, the GI bill and all that favored single family homes. And I would say that's probably because of the reaction to homes in big cities and New York, Chicago, and so on where there were these tight concentrations of people and very dense developments causing all sorts of issues of blight and crowding and crime and just investment in the developments once they were built, of course, people in the west, one of the avoid that. So we, most parts of California went that direction. Single family homes, planned developments.

Speaker 1: (08:58)

Now, since we have this trend towards more urbanization, people are pointing to very urbanized cities like Chicago or New York. As you mentioned, as models for the kind of housing density in public transportation, San Diego needs to achieve given our history. Do you think that's possible?

Speaker 2: (09:17)

Uh, no, I don't think that's in the cards for San Diego will take many, many decades to achieve what New York is. I mean, if you look in New York in the 17th century, it was form houses, little houses here and there, and it took 200 years for them to turn into a real city and then another a hundred years to be what they are.

Speaker 1: (09:35)

What do you think is missing from the current discussions of housing and development and San Diego

Speaker 2: (09:40)

Missing is affordable housing. I don't mean subsidized housing, but housing that the average person can own. As you mentioned at the outset, I've keep asking this question. Can we build our way out of this? Can we become more affordable by building more homes? I don't think so because new construction always costs more than existing housing and the solution, I think to the housing affordability is basically trying to shake up the ownership trends right now and try to encourage people who've live in their same homes for 30 years. And instead of having four people in the household, they have two, maybe one and that's one home that is not available for a family. So how do you convince oldsters like me to leave a four bedroom house and move into an apartment in downtown San Diego?

Speaker 1: (10:26)

No, you covered San Diego for several decades as a reporter, particularly with issues involving urban planning and development. How has the conversation around those issues changed from back when you started until now?

Speaker 2: (10:41)

I think it's gotten worse because the nimbyism that not my backyard sentiment by people who live here never goes away. I think Cindy citizens gotten emboldened and trying to stop development whenever they can. It's, uh, everything from, uh, using an environmental laws to stop a project, to putting on the ballot, to electing people who are guaranteed, they're going to preserve the neighborhood. You know, that kind of effort makes it very hard to bring change about. So what we're trying to do now through the city's efforts is to reverse that trend and try to concentrate growth where it already says rather than to go ahead into greenfields and San Diego. The other thing to point out is that San Diego has basically run out of what you might call free land. We don't have vast expanses of thousands of acres that we can turn into instant subdivisions. That just a very few of those opportunities to live. So San Diego is going to continue to grow. We have to find ways to accommodate, or we'll just have worse problems as we go along.

Speaker 1: (11:43)

Well, I've been speaking with Roger Sholay writer and journalist formerly of the San Diego union Tribune. Roger, thank you very, very much.

Speaker 2: (11:52)

You're welcome Marine.

Speaker 4: (11:59)

As we just heard San Diego housing primarily focused on the single family home in its development as a city, along with that came housing laws and regulations that did not include all San Diego wins, racial covenants, redlining down zoning and other discriminatory practices are an unfortunate yet unavoidable part of San Diego's housing history. San Diego's complicated legacy on race relations even led some local civil rights leaders to refer to San Diego as the Mississippi of the west. You to talk more about San Diego struggle with discriminatory housing is KPBS is racial justice and social equity reporter, Christina Kim, Christina. Welcome. Hey Jade, you have been reporting on racial covenants in the property deeds of San Diego homes. Can you explain what those are and what you're reporting family?

Speaker 3: (12:50)

That's right. I've been working on a project. That's looking at the legacy of racially restrictive covenants in order to really understand how we got here today. In other words, to try to understand how San Diego is more segregated than it was 30 years ago and why to this day, the racial wealth gap is such that nationwide white households, net worth is nearly 10 times that of black households. We know that a big part of that is racial discrimination and unequal access to housing. Okay? So racial covenants are in no way, the sole reason for housing discrimination or the single reason, but they provide something of a document trail to show us how racist ideas shape San Diego's landscape. So let me just backtrack a little bit. Racially restrictive covenants are legal documents attached to the parcels of land subdivision neighborhoods and individual homes that explicitly detail who can and cannot live there based on race.

Speaker 3: (13:42)

They existed across San Diego county. But one study that I found showed that from a sample of deeds from 1910, through 1950, every single one of these deeds had a racially restrictive covenant. I spoke to a black Homer owner in the El Cerrito neighborhood. So right by SDSU, whose home had a covenant that restricted anyone, but someone from the Caucasian race from living there, except if that person, so a black or Asian person or a Latino person, they could only live there in the role of a servant. So I don't know, Jade, it's hard to hear that, right. It's just like, wow, how could that ever have existed? And the thing is, it existed until 1948 when it was made illegal by a Supreme court case known as Shelley V Kramer. What happens in these racially restrictive covenants and why? I think they're important too, to really study is that they instill this idea that racially mixed neighborhoods are bad for property values. And here in San Diego, what ends up happening is that black and Latino households are kind of relegated and pushed into south Eastern parts of San Diego.

Speaker 4: (14:44)

And another key way housing discrimination was enacted in San Diego was through red lining. Uh, walk us through that too.

Speaker 3: (14:51)

So racially restrictive covenants, as I may have mentioned, worked in concert with several other discriminatory housing policies and a big one was red lining, which scholars such as Richard Rothstein, who wrote the color of law. They called it quote, state sponsored system of segregation. Okay. So how did that happen? Well, in 1934, the federal government got involved with housing with the passage of the federal housing act, which created the FHA, which then ensured banks and builders in order to spur housing developments and really encourage lending. The goal of all of this was to increase the national housing supply and provide more Americans with the ability to be homeowners. So between 1934 and 1962, the FHA and leader, the VA finance more than $120 billion worth of new housing. But Jade only 2% of that when to nonwhite families, FHA underwriters worked with local real estate agents to create maps of cities like San Diego to designate what areas were risky or not risky of investment.

Speaker 3: (15:53)

And so that idea of racially restrictive covenants, that embedded logic that somehow mixed neighborhoods were dangerous or risky. We saw that play out in what a lot of people know as the redlining maps, right? These HLLC maps you may have seen. And what they did was they deemed areas like Barrio Logan, which was predominantly Latino as hazardous and areas like Guanajuato and LA Jolla, you know, they laid labeled them best. And those were seen as worthy of investments. What ends up happening is that these maps, what we now call the redlining maps kind of dictate where finance and investment was able to go.

Speaker 4: (16:26)

Now, even the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. Was involved in housing discrimination in California and visited San Diego in 1964 in part to fight the repeal of a particular California fair housing law. We have a clip from his speech at what is now point Loma Nazarene university.

Speaker 6: (16:44)

And if this bill is repealed, it will be a setback, not merely for California. It will be a setback for the nation. It will be a setback for democracy, and it will be one of the great tragedies of the 20th century. And I call upon.

Speaker 4: (17:03)

And at the end of that, there was a call to action. So can you tell us more about his visit and what happened after that speech?

Speaker 3: (17:11)

Well, we just heard was from Martin Luther King's last visit to San Diego. And as you mentioned, he came as part of a California tour to stop proposition 14 proposition 14 sought to invalidate California's 1963 fair housing law, which is known as the Rumford act that actually prohibited racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. So it was a really ahead of its time bill. Unfortunately in 1964, California voters would actually vote for proposition 14. So that would in fact, repeal the Rumford act in a lot of the ways that that happened is that those who were in supportive prop 14, who wanted to repeal the Rumford act in the 1964 voter guide, they actually said to vote for proposition 14 was a vote for freedom. They homeowners and realtors. They had a right to discriminate, essentially. So as I said, you know, in California and in San Diego, prop 14 did pass, but it was actually deemed unconstitutional.

Speaker 3: (18:09)

And the Rumford act was reinstated in 1966. So that was two years before the federal fair housing act in 1968. But, you know, I want to think about Martin Luther King's last visit to San Diego. As I said, that was so powerful. He came here really to argue, to end housing discrimination and to hear his words. And then to hear that, you know, prop 13 did go through also shows us a little bit of where California wasn't civil rights. You know, we think of California as this kind of liberal bastion, but you know, when Martin Luther king came to San Diego, you know, we think of him as a beloved figure by all now, but when he came here and he was actually met by protesters that were handing out flyers, that said king was a communist. And a lot of it was because he was pushing for civil rights and he was zeroing in on housing discrimination. Hmm.

Speaker 4: (18:59)

Yeah. So interesting. And you know, you just mentioned prop 14, what other key moments or laws are important when looking at discriminatory housing practices in San Diego,

Speaker 3: (19:10)

The history. So we know there's a real dearth of affordable housing in San Diego and really across the state. And it's really hard to build for a series of reasons, not least of which is a worker shortage and the high cost of building materials, but it doesn't help that in 1950 Californians voted to amend the state constitution with article 34. And what article 34 does is it requires voters' approval before public housing can be built in a community it's still in effect today and has blocked subsidized housing, which is predominantly used by black and brown residents from being built in affluent and mostly white communities and bringing up subsidized housing. Because I think it's important to note that when we talk about housing, we're always thinking about it through the prism of home ownership. And I honestly think if we're thinking about equity, that's going to have to shift. We know that as of 2019, at least 45% of Californians are renters. And we know that the most cost burden renters, at least here in San Diego are black and Latino households.

Speaker 4: (20:12)

What's some recent housing bills meant to ease building restrictions on single family. Lots like SB nine. There seems to be at least some optimism that these measures will open up San Diego housing to more people. Do you think these laws will have an impact on racial equity in San Diego housing?

Speaker 3: (20:29)

I'm super interested to see how this plays out here in San Diego and elsewhere. You know, as I know you've talked about during this program, single family zoning was created and popularized in part to create white only spaces and really limit the construction of other forms of buildings that might've been used by people of color. So obviously when we talk about things that kind of break down the single family zoning, there's this impetus to think, oh, this is going to bring greater diversity into our neighborhoods. And I want to see that play out. I want to see racial equity, but I think that more building doesn't necessarily mean more equity unless certain policies are put in place. So it would be great to see the, that kind of new building lead to more affordable housing. But again, I don't think more housing necessarily translates to equitable, fair, or truly affordable housing without policies in place that really ensure that that growth is for all. You know, we've seen a push for UBS owning as the great solar bullet for housing affordability. And it definitely will increase housing stock, but we always have to ask ourselves, who's getting to live where, and whether these AMI area median income requirements ensure that UBS owned developments, don't just gentrify and displace poor communities of color. And that we're really seeing traditionally wealthy and white areas also build out is this new era of growth going to include households that have been historically left behind? I think we have to wait and see and something,

Speaker 4: (21:54)

And I know you will continue to follow and cover. I've been speaking with KPBS, racial justice and social equity reporter, Christina Kim, Christina. Thank you so much.

Speaker 3: (22:04)

Thank you.

Speaker 7: (22:06)

[inaudible]

Speaker 4: (22:17)

You're listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen Cavenaugh home prices have risen exponentially faster than wages in San Diego county. And they're threatening to price out. Many who call San Diego home. Locally striking workers have expressed their frustrations at employers who are not compensating them enough to keep up with San Diego's rising costs. Here are members of United food and commercial workers, union local, 1 35, voicing their discontent with retail giant CVS

Speaker 8: (22:49)

For a livelihood. It's a fight to provide for our family right now.

Speaker 9: (22:52)

This is the age of the worker right now. They are being rewarded all over for, for the hard work that they do. I'm surprised that we had to be here today doing this.

Speaker 10: (23:00)

I just finished doing two double shifts and it's because there's nobody out there to work, but we have to be there for our customers because we're healthcare. They don't want to give us a pay raise, which keeps up with inflation. They won't give us affordable healthcare. So what we're saying is enough is enough. We're going to start taking this to the public.

Speaker 4: (23:22)

As home prices continue to rise the prospect of continuing to live and work and what they call America's finest city is becoming a difficult proposition for many San Diego residents. Joining me now is economist and university of San Diego associate professor Ryan Ratcliff, Ryan, welcome to the program. Thanks so much for having me. So the housing market in San Diego is only going up and will likely be that way. For some time. I hear our wages rising to accommodate this jump.

Speaker 11: (23:52)

Unfortunately not. I mean, at the very, very top of the wage distribution, the top 10% has seen some wage growth and then even the top 1% within that, but for most San Diego ones. And in fact, most Americans income growth, maybe over the last five years has been in the 25% zip code and house prices in San Diego have gone up about 70 to 75%, depending on exactly the window you use in which measure use.

Speaker 4: (24:17)

And, you know, the city has in many ways become a hub for more of those lucrative sectors like science and tech. Uh, what does this mean for support workers who earn lower wages? I think

Speaker 11: (24:26)

San Diego, you know, it's a microcosm of a trend we've seen in California as a whole where, uh, there's sort of a hollowing out of the middle. There is the, uh, the high-tech high-wage knowledge economy kind of jobs. And then, you know, San Diego in particular, one of the pillars of our economy is, uh, is tourism and the leisure and hospitality industry that goes with that, you know, average wages there pre pandemic we're about 25 to $30,000 a year. So we see kind of the two drivers of economic growth in San Diego on either end of the wage spectrum. So it's a haves and have nots kind of issue.

Speaker 4: (25:02)

What has prevented wages and salaries across the board from going up in such a long time,

Speaker 11: (25:08)

A bit of a surprise, but it's been going on even back into the kind of the mid nineties where we've seen this, where, uh, you know, GDP is going up, profits are going up and wages are barely keeping ahead of inflation. You know, a lot of people were saying it was just sort of the rise of the, the balance of negotiating power shifted to companies. You know, a lot of labor is more specialized, so there's fewer, a fewer places I can work to do exactly the thing that I know how to do. And that shifts the power a little bit to the hiring firms. But you know, one of the interesting things is going on more recently is I think coming out of a pandemic, it seems like we're starting to see the first indication that maybe that balance of power is shifting back to, uh, to the workers.

Speaker 4: (25:48)

So what are some of the main problems that arise when people in a given field can't afford to live and work in the city they're employed in? Well,

Speaker 11: (25:57)

The issues we see is CNO. I mean, it kind of directly, you can go out and see it on the 8 0 5 every day. You know, just the, I'm going to find a place where I can afford to live. That requires me to do this awful commute, to get to the place where my job is. So we see that kind of, you know, eastward expansion. We see people commuting in from, you know, south Riverside county and so on. You know, again, that was a, that was a real pre pandemic dynamic. You know, I think one of the potential relief valves for all of this pressure is perhaps the idea that remote work is going to give us a little bit more flexibility in where you live versus where you work and kind of spread out the demand a little bit. There's going to be certain neighborhoods that are always going to be the place where everybody wants to live, that are, that are going to be super expensive. But I think these breaking the link with commute that you can get through remote work may spread this out a little bit more.

Speaker 4: (26:47)

This seems like an obvious question here, but does affordable housing play any role in solving these problems?

Speaker 11: (26:53)

Well, I find affordable housing is one phrase that probably is at least three different conversations for me. There is the problem we have where somebody's earning the median income in San Diego has a very, very hard time finding housing. That's in that 30 to 40% of your income zone, right? So that's one notion of affordable housing. There is the, you know, let's talk about the lower 20% of the wage distribution, and you can barely make rent with that kind of, uh, you know, with, uh, with those kind of wages. And so that's another version of affordable housing. And then we of course have the issue of homelessness and housing, the homeless, and each of those has its own kind of internal dynamic, but we often kind of smashed them all together.

Speaker 4: (27:35)

So how are other major cities dealing with this issue? Pretty much

Speaker 11: (27:39)

Everywhere I have ever lived in California has been wrestling with this for the last 30 years, in some sense, you know, I mean, I've seen some interesting things going on here in San Diego and in Poway with the idea of, you know, maybe you got a big backyard, there's a casita or a ADU, you know, option where you can build a smaller living unit and rent it out to somebody else and income for the big property owner. And it provides maybe a way around some of the there's just not any new land. There's not any zoning is not particularly friendly to certain kinds of housing. And so on. You know, one of the other interesting things that I, you know, I, I think back to having very similar discussions like this in 2005, 2007. And so, and a lot of the, you know, what we look back on now as, you know, terrible ideas in terms of interest only in negative amortization loans and all of those, all of those were financial innovations that were trying to get to this. The median home buyer can't afford the median home anymore. So I don't think we're going to see financial innovation along those lines, but we do see on the mortgage side, I think some new thinking on these innovative ways to get around the usual complaints about zoning and so on.

Speaker 4: (28:48)

And, you know, some say the notion of home ownership is really becoming a thing of the past as many and, and younger generations say that goal is just simply unobtainable. What are your thoughts on that?

Speaker 11: (29:00)

We're having exactly that same feeling. You know, I sort of in my twenties and early thirties was up in the bay area and had utter despair about ever owning a home and then moved to LA for awhile, slightly less despair, but pretty much still despair about ever owning a home. And then we moved to San Diego that was in 2008. So, you know, kind of fortuitous timing, I guess, for me to buy a house, you know, I I'm a college professor. So a lot of my students just sort of, you know, they had their parents go through, you know, the big foreclosure crisis and they just look at affordability and just sort of a resigned to, I don't think I'm ever going to own a home, except for interestingly, you know, and I think this is a whole other set of problems. You know, a lot of them will say, well, my parents own a home and they're now fabulously wealthy because they've owned this home since 1980 or whatever. And they're going to use some of that housing wealth to help me get into the housing market. So it becomes this sort of, you know, kind of class thing where if your parents were lucky enough to own a home, they can pass some of that wealth along to you to help you continue to own a home. But you know, the implications of we're locking a lot of people who didn't have that advantage out of the housing market. I find very troubling.

Speaker 4: (30:07)

You mentioned the great resignation earlier. Do you think the shift in the employment market could signal a change in how workers work in the longterm? Or is this more of a short term phenomenon?

Speaker 11: (30:19)

Well, I think there's two questions there. There's just that sort of balance of power. And I, I sort of view the great resignation is just the pandemic really forced us to re-examine, you know, what am I doing with my life and is this what I want to be doing? So I think some of it is just that sort of Nope, you know, driving two hours a day to, to go work for the man in a cubicle somewhere is not what I want to be doing. I want to do something else, but I haven't quite figured out what yet. Uh, so there's that dynamic, but I think there's also, you know, kind of that push and pull between a worker's negotiating power and firms, negotiating power about, uh, what's going to happen with wages as well. And then the third part of it being the, uh, uh, how much of the remote working, uh, setup are we going to keep?

Speaker 11: (31:01)

Because it seems like that is one of the sticking points that a lot of firms like, okay, that pandemic was over. We need all be back in the office now. And a lot of workers are saying, no, this remote work was so much better for me, you know, in terms of commute, in terms of family, life, mental health, et cetera, that I want a job that lets me be remote full time. And I think that give and take between firms and workers is still in its infancy. Personally. I hope that these more flexible work arrangements are here to stay. I think there's a lot of, uh, you know, one of the things I talked to the guys at SANDAG who were thinking quite a bit about the greenhouse gas goals that the city has, and one of the great things you can do for that, it doesn't require you to build a bunch of an infrastructure is just have people work from home one day a week, right? 20% of your vehicle miles, just go away there.

Speaker 4: (31:50)

And as you mentioned, uh, those parents who were lucky enough to be able to buy into the housing market and pass that wealth onto their children, do you see that continuing will people who are buying into the housing market now be able to pass that same wealth onto their children?

Speaker 11: (32:07)

Well, I still think, you know, I remember all of my elders telling me 20, 30 years ago that the single best financial decision they ever made was to buy a house. And, you know, I, as I said, had a lot of despair about whether or not I was going to be able to, uh, you know, and I'm fairly, you know, in terms of being a professor, I'm in the right end of the wage distribution. And even I, you know, I was having a lot of despair about it, but, uh, I did. And it's just as it was for them, then one of the best performing assets that I own, I don't see that dynamic changing. I don't see that we would move into a situation where home prices are going to stay flat over a 20 year span in California. Um, the kind of places where you see those home price dynamics are either the places that just have, you know, infinite, buildable land in every direction from the city center, uh, uh, or you know, places where, uh, the economy has shifted away in a way to, you know, turn it into almost a ghost town.

Speaker 11: (33:09)

And I don't really see either of those things in the cards for San Diego.

Speaker 4: (33:13)

I've been speaking with economists and university of San Diego associate professor Ryan Ratcliff, Ryan, thanks so much for joining us.

Speaker 11: (33:21)

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: (33:31)

This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Jade Heinemann San Diego county could be on track to build 10,000 new homes this year, the biggest increase in 15 years, but even that burst of construction would not solve our ongoing housing crisis nor substantially decrease the cost of new homes. Most of the new construction is on multifamily units, condos and apartments. That's in keeping with San Diego's climate action goal to increase density and decrease reliance on automobiles. The construction of single family homes is lagging behind causing some real estate experts to predict the cost of those homes will continue to skyrocket joining me to discuss the current state of housing in San Diego is KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Welcome.

Speaker 12: (34:23)

Hi Maureen. Thanks for having me. Now we

Speaker 1: (34:25)

Heard from Roger Sholay earlier in the show about how single-family homes shaped the look and the lifestyle of San Diego. Do you think that's changing

Speaker 12: (34:35)

Well? It's absolutely changing. Uh, obviously you cited those construction figures, but you know, multi-family housing is on the up and single family homes are on the decline and the reasons behind that are multitude, but I'll, I'll attempt to narrow it down to just three of them. The first one I'll talk about is consumer preferences. So on average, uh, neighborhoods walkability and, uh, access to amenities like parks shops, restaurants is more important to consumers nowadays compared to say, 30 years ago. And developers watch these trends very closely. They respond to those trends with, uh, where they choose to build housing and what types of housing and projects they actually propose. So take little Italy, for example, it's one of the most walkable neighborhoods in San Diego. It's in very high demand and the land costs can't justify building just a single family home on a piece of land.

Speaker 12: (35:30)

The only way that a developer can turn a profit is by building higher density housing. And I say higher density housing because high density housing often evokes an image of say a skyscraper, but often these multi-family apartments we're talking about is just mid-rise buildings say around five stories. The second reason I'll talk about is the affordability constraints. So you said, of course, that, uh, as single family homes become more scarce, they're going to become more expensive. Of course, consumers love, you know, would love. I would love to have the privacy of a single family home to have a backyard that that's just your own. Um, but they also, as I mentioned, love walkability, and it can be very, very challenging to find a single family home in a walkable neighborhood that the average consumer can afford. The third reason is as you alluded to in your intro, our journey toward coming to terms with the threat of climate change, it's a lot easier to build single family homes in big clusters on vacant land.

Speaker 12: (36:28)

That's the only way that a low density project is able to scale or actually to pencil out where the developer can actually make money off of it. Lawmakers have realized that this pattern of low density housing and building in the back country is simply unsustainable. It leads to people driving very long distances to get to work or anywhere else. And because of the climate crisis, wildfires are becoming bigger and more destructive in these areas. So many of these single family home projects are in areas that are prone to wildfires. Uh, just because that's the land we have left, we're, we're reaching the limits of the land that we can build on. So those projects, uh, of single family homes are becoming more difficult and more expensive to build. And that's why you're seeing a much, uh, you know, an accelerating trend toward multi-family housing and what

Speaker 1: (37:15)

I see the role of SB nine down the road, of course, that legalizes duplexes and allows people to subdivide lots. How will SB nine change all this?

Speaker 12: (37:25)

Well, uh, you know, if you look at a duplex, oftentimes it doesn't look very different from a single family home. I have a friend who lives just down the street from me, who lives in a granny flat in the backyard. And he told me, uh, you know, it's behind this big single-family home. It looks very historic. It's very pretty and craftsman style. And he told me that that was actually a duplex. It, um, at some point in history, got converted from a single family home to a duplex. And there were two, one bedroom apartments that are now, uh, you know, in this shell of what looks like a single family home. So with regards to how neighborhoods look and feel, I don't think SB nine is going to have a dramatic impact, certainly because you know, this sort of relatively low density housing like duplexes, um, are not, uh, dramatically out of scale with what a neighborhood might already look like. But also SB nine is not going to lead to a big boom in home building. In many of these cases, you know, a property owner, they're the ones who are deciding what gets built on this land. They may not want to redevelop into a duplex. They may not want to sell to a developer who will then build a duplex. So SB nine is potentially going to lead to a small number of homes being built, but it's nowhere near on the scale of the crisis, right?

Speaker 1: (38:40)

You're surely who we spoke with earlier also explained that our county was designed around our freeways. What role does future transportation planning play in addressing our housing shortage?

Speaker 12: (38:53)

Housing and transportation are really two sides of the same coin. So as Roger noted, since the mid 20th century, the automobile has been the default solution to our transportation needs in San Diego. It wasn't always so, and this is maybe a conversation for another day. San Diego used to have a very extensive electric street car network. And the first half of the century that has since disappeared. Uh, but the boom in population that happened after world war II, uh, when the car was king is the system that we have now. And if that stays the case, then the increase in density that we're talking about. Uh, you know, you might assume that every single person, uh, will own an automobile. Uh, if that's the case, then San Diego will just become more like LA with chronic gridlock on our freeways, uh, massive streets that can be hostile to pedestrian some of the worst air quality in the nation. So planning for smarter and more efficient and more sustainable transportation options is really key to, uh, solving the housing crisis because when you have a big influx of people and everybody's trying to get around in their own personal automobile, it just doesn't work. That's not how geometry works. There are too many people trying to get places, and that's how you lead to gridlock. Uh, whereas with a bus or a train, it can very efficiently move large numbers of people in a pretty, um, reasonable manner, as long as it's well-funded. And well-maintained many people

Speaker 1: (40:19)

Living in historically single family zoned, lots of pushed back on the changes to increase density in their neighborhoods. Talk to me about that and the role of similar pushback in the efforts to increase housing.

Speaker 12: (40:32)

Well, certainly housing often faces political resistance. Uh, many neighbors nearby might see a proposal for an apartment building, uh, even something as modest as a granny flat or a duplex like we talked about, and they are imagining all of the negative consequences for them. So if that neighborhood lacks good public transit, which most do in San Diego, uh, they might assume again, that everyone has a car and traffic will get worse. Sometimes the opposition to new housing gets pretty transparently racist or classist of, you know, people have said in meetings that I've listened to affordable housing, we'll bring crime, it'll turn our nice quiet neighborhood into a ghetto. And so these systems of power that we built in government in civil society are very heavily weighted in favor of the existing residents. People who already live in a, in a neighborhood we're not very good. And it's a lot harder to include the people that will benefit from new housing, namely all those people who are going to live in a new apartment complex because those people don't know who they are yet. They might be living in another state or another country, and haven't gotten the job yet that moves them to San Diego. So one of the challenges certainly with, um, building new housing and, you know, sustainable growth is that housing has many, many enemies, uh, but very few allies because those allies are harder to identify and organize.

Speaker 1: (41:54)

How does an area determine how much housing is needed?

Speaker 12: (41:58)

Well, the state of California has a process called the regional housing needs allocation. And basically every eight years, they analyze a region. In our case, that's just the county of San Diego and look at historical population growth figures, economic growth figures, and come up with a number and they give that number to the county planning agency, uh, which in our case is SANDAG. And then SANDAG comes up with a formula that distributes, uh, each individual cities allocation. So in the most recent cycle, as it's called, uh, the state of California told San Diego county, you need to plan for 171,685 homes over the next eight years, uh, that you know, is a number based on historical data every eight years. If you break that figure down into an annual target, uh, you know, how many homes we need to build each individual year in that cycle, it totals a little over 21,000 homes.

Speaker 12: (43:01)

So you mentioned in your intro, San Diego is on track to permit 10,000 homes this year, which is the highest number in 15 years. That gives you a window into the scale of the housing shortage. Right now, if our biggest housing production in 15 years is less than half of what it should be. If we're trying to keep pace with population and economic growth, you know, you can imagine how you would end up in a situation like we are now, where prices are just out of control. People are facing rent increases. Uh, many of those end in evictions that put people on the streets and, uh, increasingly people are just moving out of San Diego or they're moving to places that are very far from their jobs. Uh, the few places that remain affordable

Speaker 1: (43:48)

Besides all the things that we've talked about so far, what are the other solutions being proposed to help get us out of this housing crisis?

Speaker 12: (43:56)

Well, increasingly I think the state is becoming more emboldened in its quest to take away local control over, uh, zoning, uh, over approval of new housing. Because the system that we have now essentially allows a small city, like say Del Mar or Solana beach to kind of shrug off its housing obligations. And it's not that those, the need for that housing doesn't just disappears. The obligations or the needs for housing just could get shifted onto other neighboring cities. So the state is attempting to step in here, intervene and say, these are the ground rules that all cities have to follow. You know, you have to housing should be built near transportation amenities that should be built in walkable communities. Uh, you know, it not should, it should not be built in, uh, you know, fire hazard zones and, you know, thinking more meta about all of this.

Speaker 12: (44:50)

We certainly need a lot more housing that laws will have to change because the status quo is just not working, but in order to get to that point, because the legislature is really struggling to come up with solutions that people can agree on. I think regular people just have to learn a whole lot more about this problem and just how bad it is. I hope we have made a small contribution to that effort, but I hope that more people in San Diego and across California learn just how severe this housing crisis is and what needs to happen in order to change it.

Speaker 1: (45:20)

I've been speaking with KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Thank

Speaker 12: (45:25)

You. Thank you, Maureen.

Today, we bring you a special on San Diego’s housing crisis. We look at how we got here, and the role of racial discrimination in housing. We also explore where we’re going and the ways San Diego is trying to solve its housing crisis.