Construction of apartments in San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego is one of the wealthiest cities in the nation’s richest state, but the crushing weight of our real estate prices has made it difficult for most San Diego residents to make ends meet. . There isn’t a neighborhood in San Diego where someone earning minimum wage can afford decent housing – a minimum wage worker would have to work 125 hours a week to pay current average rents.

Even for those with well-paying jobs, a projected median house price of over $ 1 million is a huge financial burden to bear. It is clear that housing costs hurt not only our low-income neighbors, but also middle-class workers, while stifling business competitiveness and entrepreneurial innovation.

We need bold new solutions to make our city liveable again. It forces us to stop the side arguments that demonize developers and government because everyone has a role to play in solving this crisis.

One thing is very clear: the private market alone is not going to create affordable housing on the scale we need. We need a public option for housing, similar to the progressive view of the public option for health care in the United States.

Mayor Todd Gloria Housing for all The plan highlights the ability to build houses in the city’s facilities. I agree with this approach. Here’s how city council can help make that vision a reality with high-quality municipal housing.

Our municipal council should give priority to updating the housing element of the general city plan to establish a social housing program using public land, with the ambitious goal of building 50% of the 100,000 housing units mandated by the state for the regional allocation of the city’s housing needs over 10 years. The goal should be to produce approximately 550 new, high-quality affordable homes per year in each of the council’s nine districts.

This construction rate has been greatly exceeded in other cities around the world. Helsinki, for example, has significantly exceeded this rate, building more than 600,000 municipal housing units in 10 years.

Such social housing would create revitalized urban villages that vary in size and extent, but target an economically diverse and sustainable mix of residents. As an example, 25% could be rentals for residents earning 100-140% of the region’s median income, prioritizing public workers like teachers, police, and healthcare workers to live comfortably in the area. the neighborhoods they serve. We should target an additional 25% of these new homes for greater affordability, funded by expanding established mechanisms such as project-based HUD and VA housing vouchers.

Such a program should include homes available for purchase at both affordable and restricted market prices. A broad mix of rental and sale will provide income neutrality for the city, while the land itself will be the main subsidy.

To help fund a strong social housing program, our city should join with the county, community colleges, transit systems and school districts to establish a multi-jurisdictional public land bank. Such a public bank should have the ability to guarantee general bond obligations, obtain property, lease property and hold tax-free underdeveloped land for future development in order to guard against loss. gentrification.

Instead of auctioning off the “surplus” public land or leasing it to hoteliers and developers, I think we can get a better deal by holding the land in municipal ownership. Reducing the overall cost of developing affordable housing using public land reduces an important overall cost driver.

With the setting aside of land in the Twin Cities, for example, $ 109 million in land acquisitions has been mobilized to promote the development of more than 3,500 housing units. Recent studies have shown that the “soft cost” of government construction and ownership is 25% of the total cost of a unit versus 40% of private development which requires, among other things, to pay investors windfall profits. .

Critics of municipal social housing will give us harangues on past “housing projects” and social housing policy. Unlike older public housing projects, which were “designed to fail” and “designed to be isolated,” social housing builds mixed-use, integrated and multi-income housing designed for quality and affordability. And quality, affordable municipal government-subsidized housing is supported by voters from all political backgrounds.

As everyone is on the bridge, government has a critical role to play in building the housing we need. Cities like Singapore and Vienna have invested in social housing with amazing results in terms of affordability. Today, cities in Scotland, New Zealand, Finland and even the University of California are joining a new push for municipal housing. San Diego should join them.

The pooling and enhancement of public assets – in community college parking lots, city buildings, and along public transit routes – would represent one of the largest investments in affordable housing in the city. history of the United States. With the current system failing, it’s time to create a public option for housing in San Diego.

Joel Day teaches global public policy at UC San Diego. He lives in Clairemont and is a candidate for San Diego city council in 2022.


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