Affordable Housing Should Be the Top Priority in Redeveloping the Sports Arena Site

by on May 19, 2021 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

A massive affordable housing project was implemented in the Midway District at the start of World War II.

By Laura Nunn / San Diego Union-Tribune Op-Ed / May 18, 2021

Housing is a top concern for citizens, a basic need and a public good.

At a time when the housing and homelessness crisis continues to deepen, the public is served by prioritizing affordable housing in new developments.

The COVID-19 pandemic put on display how unprepared our housing system is to meet one of the most basic of human needs. When staying home was a matter of public health, many people had no home to go to or found themselves insecure in their housing situation. When schools closed, home became the primary space for kids of all ages to learn, study and complete homework. We’ve all learned a deeper meaning to the word “home” and its importance in our life.

This past year, we saw the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time in San Diego County double and a decline in California’s population for the first time in recorded history. Both outcomes can be directly connected to the significant shortfall of affordable housing. New data from the California Housing Partnership found that 81 percent of extremely low-income households are paying more than half of their income on housing costs and that there is a shortfall of over 132,000 homes that are affordable for low-income renters in the San Diego region.

It bears repeating, San Diego lacks 132,000 homes that are affordable for low-income renters. Many of those renters work in our region as essential employees.

For decades, the legacy of redlining has impacted our city with outdated policies from the 1930s still reflected in renter demographics. We know that your ZIP code can determine your health, your school and your economic opportunity. Creating affordable housing across communities in San Diego is something we should be striving for to overcome the racial restrictions of the past and improve equal access to opportunity for all San Diegans. The public good is best served by including those who make up the public: all of us.

With this data in hand, there should be no question that affordable housing should be a part of the redevelopment of the Sports Arena site in San Diego’s Midway District. It shouldn’t just be included; it should be prioritized.

That is why the state’s Surplus Land Act exists. State law for decades, the Surplus Land Act was strengthened and clarified in 2019. It prioritizes affordable housing when a jurisdiction or public agency disposes of publicly owned land. By tapping into one of the most difficult resources to acquire — land suitable for development — cities can use these public assets to meet the fundamental public need of affordable housing.

The Sports Arena site sits on 48 acres in proximity to Downtown San Diego, Ocean Beach and Old Town. If an envisioned San Diego Grand Central Station comes to fruition, the site will be within walking distance to the region’s primary transportation center. The size of the site, its location near existing and planned amenities, and its status as a public asset make it an ideal project and location for on-site affordable housing.

As proposed, the development would deliver 2,100 units of much-needed housing. By complying with the Surplus Land Act, the development would set aside a portion of those units for low-income households. The people who might live in those units are low-income workers who are employed at nearby retail and restaurants, seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, and perhaps even some of the 4,152 who experienced homelessness for the first time in San Diego County this past year.

With the Sports Arena site, San Diego has an incredible and rare opportunity to build a community that reflects the diversity of the city itself. To build a community that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. To create opportunities for people to live near where they work and relieve traffic congestion in doing so. To be a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis. To shape the vision of a modern city that embraces a challenge to make a place that is livable for everyone.

We have seen the cost of not building enough affordable housing as a growing number of San Diegans experience homelessness. When it comes to limited public resources, especially publicly owned land, there is significant cost if we fail to produce affordable housing. With the Sports Arena site, we have an opportunity to make the right investment. We can’t afford to miss it.

Laura Nunn is chief of policy and programs for the San Diego Housing Federation. She lives in Clairemont.

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