Is $2,000 a Month for 480 Square Foot ADU ‘Affordable Housing’? San Diego City Thinks So

by on December 17, 2021 · 26 comments

in San Diego

By Paul Krueger

A new definition of “affordable housing”: $2,000 monthly rent for 480 square foot, 1 bedroom/1 bath ADU.

Building industry consultant admits it’s “absurd, from the stand-point of affordability.”

The permit application for a multi-unit rental complex on a single-family lot confirms that two of the apartments will be reserved for an affordable rental program administered by the San Diego Housing Commission.

In return for that set-aside, the city gave the developer a two-unit “bonus.” Instead of building just four units, he and his investors can cram a total of six rental units on this average-size residential lot in San Diego’s Talmadge neighborhood.

Plus, the city’s controversial “Accessory Dwelling Unit” ordinance gives all absentee landlords and their investment partners additional perks not available on other apartment projects:

  • They’re exempt from the infrastructure fees required for other developments. Those fees help maintain city streets, sidewalks, sewer and water lines, parks, and other basic requirements of urban life.
  • They don’t have to provide any off-street parking for tenants, even though the closest bus or trolley line might be three miles away. They don’t have to provide any incentives for mass transit use, or any disincentives to vehicle ownership.
  • They can clear-cut the back and side yards, without replacing any lost landscaping, in direct conflict with the city’s Climate Action Plan and Urban Forestry Program.
  • They can build multiple, multi -story rental units right up to the neighbor’s property line, with second-story windows that look directly into neighbors’ homes and backyards.

The attached  photos confirm the developer of the Talmadge project is taking advantage of all those giveaways.

And he’s giving nothing in return to low-income renters. That’s because the city’s restricted rent program allows him to charge top-dollar for those apartments.

In a recent presentation to the North Park Planning Committee, a consultant for that project confirmed that the one-bedroom, one-bath backyard apartments — including the two “rent restricted” units — are expected to rent for $2,000 each. “I agree that’s absurd from the standpoint of an affordability perspective,” the consultant admitted.

This was the backyard on 49th Street before grading.

It’s also evidence of the total failure of the city’s ADU policy, enshrined in an October, 2020 ordinance that city staff falsely claimed was simply bringing San Diego into compliance with state regulations.

Instead of boosting the city’s anemic inventory of much needed very-low and low-income rentals, the ADU ordinance has produced only market-rate — and above-market-rate — housing. (The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,823, as of August, 2021, according to the market research firm Co-Star.)

But San Diegans searching for real solutions to our housing problem now have the power to help rewrite this ill-conceived, regressive ordinance.

Neighbors For A Better San Diego (NFABSD) has identified a number of changes that will require developers to pay their fair share when building multi-unit projects. These proposed amendments will protect and preserve our established neighborhoods while maintaining incentives, discounts, and streamlined approvals for homeowners who want to build a backyard “Granny Flat” and, if they choose, also convert their garage to an additional living unit.

Our research has confirmed that many San Diegans strongly support endorse the following restrictions:

  • Limit ADU development to what the state requires: one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and one Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) on single-family lots in residential neighborhoods. The so-called “Bonus ADU” program benefits only developers, not homeowners or other residents.
  • Limit building height to 16-feet. ADU’s are by definition “accessory” units, and should not tower over existing homes.
  • Require four-foot minimum rear- and side yard setbacks, to comply with state guidelines. By allowing “zero” setbacks, the city has increased fire risk and made firefighting more dangerous.
  • Collect Development Impact Fees from property investors and developers. Our aging neighborhoods were not designed for high-density, and do not  have the infrastructure to support multi-unit ADUs.
  • Protect our urban tree canopy and fight climate change by requiring developers to replace the shade trees and landscaping they destroyed to make room for multi-unit dwellings.

Paul Krueger is a Talmadge resident and volunteer with Neighbors For A Better San Diego. You can learn more about the effort to sensibly rewrite our city’s destructive ADU regulations at

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom December 17, 2021 at 12:55 pm

Thank you for this, Paul — and for the all the work NFABSD has been doing.

Yesterday’s Planning Commission meeting was a disgrace. It was clear despite the overwhelming opposition by those who attended and submitted comments against the “Housing for All of Us” scheme that it was a foregone conclusion. Two of them couldn’t even bother to hide their contempt, foremost Boomhower, who referred to your group as “Neighbors for…whatever” and dismissed concerned citizens as “NIMBYs.”

This is what happens when a commission that should be independent is instead packed with cronies appointed by the mayor.


ChArles Kaminski December 18, 2021 at 9:09 am

I heard those comments as well. Rude and shaming. As well as Modeens comments about price and affordability. End result was a tree discussion.


Paul Webb December 17, 2021 at 3:19 pm

Affordable indeed!

So this “affordable” $2k per month apartment will, by the HCD guideline of 30% of your income, be appropriate for a household earning $6K per month. If you consider that the minimum wage in San Diego is about $2,600 per month, even a two minimum wage income household would not be able to afford this “affordable” apartment. Oh, and the 30% of gross income is also supposed to cover utilities, as well.

Can we all come to the table and have an honest discussion of what affordable housing is and what it is not? Can that discussion include actual numbers of what kind of housing the people of our region who are currently under-served afford? Can we also have a discussion of how we are going to achieve this housing? It is clear that allowing the market to dictate what kind of housing will be built and where it will be built is what got us into the mess we are in today. Letting the same forces decide how to answer the problem of providing affordable housing is just magical thinking.


Eliana Barreiros December 17, 2021 at 5:00 pm

The City has no say in this matter. It is the FEDs (HUD) that determine/define what is “affordable housing” and what rent may be charged (function of HH size and median income of affected area).…/2021/02/AMIIncomeRentChart-2021.pdf


Mat Wahlstrom December 17, 2021 at 6:00 pm

Only half true. HUD defines what the area median incomes (AMIs) are, but the city specifies what percentages of which tier meet its requirements for providing ‘affordable’ housing depending on the project or program.

According to “Housing for All of Us” scheme that was just passed (, the city says “Moderate income dwelling units in the development shall be affordable, including an allowance for utilities, to moderate income households at a rent that does not exceed 30 percent of 110 percent of the area median income.”

According to the chart you linked to (, gross rent for a 1bd/1ba at 110% of the AMI ($83,700) is $2,093. That’s *before* adding up to 30% on top of that.

How many people reading this think this is ‘affordable’?


Danna Givot December 17, 2021 at 9:59 pm

Eliana, I believe you are incorrect. The City has the option of what level of “affordability” it will make available for ADUs. AB671, now CA 65583(c)(7) says the city must “Develop a plan that incentivizes and promotes the creation of accessory dwelling units that can be offered at affordable rent, as defined in Section 50053 of the Health and Safety Code, for very low, low-, or moderate-income households.”

The statute uses the word “OR” to give the city flexibility in the income level it chooses to use to incentivize ADU production. San Diego is not required to incentivize the creation of ADUs for moderate-income households. The city can instead choose to incentivize construction of ADUs for very low and low-income households and exclude moderate income households, which would mean the deeded-affordable ADUs would rent for lower rents, but the City has chosen not to do this.

An hour ago, a market-rate studio ADU in El Cerrito was advertised on NextDoor for $1500/month. That is $330 less per month than the deeded-“affordable” studio ADUs the City’s bonus ADU program is producing. Even if it doesn’t include utilities, it is significantly less expensive than the City’s deeded-affordable studio ADUs rented at $1830/month. THE SAN DIEGO BONUS DENSITY PROGRAM IS PRODUCING ADUs THAT ARE AFFORDABLE IN NAME ONLY! PAUL KRUEGER HAS IT RIGHT.



Scott December 17, 2021 at 5:13 pm

The reality is that the 5 ADU bills were signed into law by Governor Newsom. One of them, AB-671: Making These ADUs Available To Low-Income Households.
Per the Department of Housing and Community Development:
2021 State Income Level – Low income in SD County is $67.9k for a one person household & goes up to $128k for 8. So in that range I think $2k a month is doable for a 1 bedroom.

Everything in your article is about the City of SD but the reality is that the State is dictating what they must do. I don’t think the city of SD has much power to override without serious consequences.

Here is a great article from Forbes explaining the 5 ADU Bills signed into law:


Danna Givot December 17, 2021 at 10:04 pm

Scott, please read my comments above to Eliana. AB671 gives the city of San Diego flexibility to choose the income levels for which it incentivizes ADU construction. The code is quoted in my previous comment. The City does have a say in the rents charged via the choice of income levels for which it chooses to incentivize ADU production.


Eliana Barreiros December 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Correct. The City does have the flexibility to make rent more “affordable” (beyond what Section 50053 requires - With that said, ADU construction costs (soft and hard) are estimated roughly at $400 per SF. If the City were to make them so affordable that they don’t pencil out, zero would be built. At roughly $400 per SF construction costs, a 480SF 1/1 would cost $192k (without account for land costs). Heloc or construction loan (10 year term) would amount to a $2,036 monthly payment. I am not disputing the fact the $2k rent for a 1/1 is NOT affordable for those whose HH income is at or below the fourth quintile -never mind the 7% of our San Diego families who live below the poverty level.


Mat Wahlstrom December 17, 2021 at 11:11 pm

“Low income in SD County is $67.9k for a one person household & goes up to $128k for 8. So in that range I think $2k a month is doable for a 1 bedroom”?

In the immortal words of William S. Burroughs, “Who are you an agent for?”


Scott December 19, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Mat, Thank you. Hmmmm…

“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. ”
? William S. Burroughs


korla eaquinta December 17, 2021 at 7:26 pm

Unfortunately the City has gone above and beyond what the state requires with the new housing bills. And NO DIF fees impact us all, especially older, established neighborhoods. The amount they are allowing to be placed on a lot with no parking, no setbacks and no trees is terrifying. Developers with money will mostly benefit from these new proposals.
Following is the link to the Housing Action Package Presentation by the city at Tuesday’s CPC meeting. It is on You Tube. See for yourself.


Kate Callen December 18, 2021 at 10:34 am

The only mechanism we have to fix this mess is the ballot box. The politicians who brazenly sold out our neighborhoods have one single fear: losing the next election. They are counting on the power of incumbency and the apathy of voters. We need challengers to step forward and begin building support networks. Off-the-charts public outrage will provide a solid foundation. The earlier these incumbents start feeling the heat, the better.


Chris December 18, 2021 at 7:31 pm

I think we are sadly in an unfixable situation with no solution. It will never get better.


OB John December 19, 2021 at 7:54 am

One of the main issues in San Diego is the amount of long term rentals that have been lost to AirB&B/VRBO/Short Term Vacation Rentals. I’ve seen estimates of 10,000 to 20,000 apartments/houses that have been turned into short term rentals. These STVR companies seem to have some type of political power over some officials here as they spend large amounts of money to influence decisions made by our government. The latest weak regulations limiting STVR’s are a joke that will not likely be enforced with much effect. The old “It’s my property, I have a RIGHT to do what I want with it” is just another rallying cry that these folks use (sound familiar) while many of us can’t afford or even find a place to live and we’re expected to pay the taxes to fund this “affordable housing” scheme.


Aaron E Banks December 19, 2021 at 9:24 am

It should be rather obvious to all that Todd Gloria is on the payroll and needs to go.


Kathy December 19, 2021 at 11:52 am

Multiple unit ADUs in single family neighborhoods, goes against San Diego’s Climate Action Plan goals.

• Cutting down trees
• No place for rain water to soak in
• Fire Hazards (no setbacks to help fire fighters fight fires)
• Increased car emissions

The saddest part is that is doesn’t accomplish the goal of creating affordable housing; in fact it distracts us from finding the real solutions (like building housing on transportation corridors).

This is so obvious that I can only conclude that supporters of this irresponsible multiple ADU code were ignorant of the consequences or truly in the pockets of corporate outside investors.


sealintheSelkirks December 19, 2021 at 1:17 pm

So does anybody want to guess on a timeline before 1) minimum wage has to be radically increased (which is way past due in this country); or 2) there isn’t anybody left to clean the toilets or stock the shelves or serve you dinner or who you pay for your groceries to?

I mean, this can’t continue as there is always a breaking point where the economic ‘system’ collapses. Again, like it has so many times before in this country. We don’t seem to learn from our own history well, do we?

At $15 x 40 hours x 52 weeks (no unpaid vacations, unpaid sick days, nothing but constant never-ending low wage work grind) I get a wage total of $31, 200. That’s before taxes! Paying for $24,000 rent for that 480 sq foot apartment takes a hell of a lot more than that imaginary 30% of a yearly paycheck claptrap the gov figures is ‘average.’

Then there is the average wage tax bill, about 30% fed/state/local yes? So add roughly $3,120 for taxes.

And if you can’t afford the Obama federal-mandated health ‘insurance’ from for-profit vampire corporations you get another big ding taken out by the fed gov on your tax return. What, add another $600 or so gone?

Just employee taxes & rent takes $27,120 which leave one with about $4000 for food, utilities, garbage collection, gov-mandated car insurance & gas costs & maintenance to get to your crap job, then add everything else. You fill in the blanks I’ve left out ____.

This sounds completely insane to me. One of my former students works in a bakery in Chico as a bread maker (years of being a restaurant cook) at $14 an hour, but his studio apartment rent is about $700. He’s been there five years with an increase every year. I thought his situation was bad, then I read this about my home town and shake my head in despair.

This looks all seems pretty ugly to me. Seems like it will do nothing but get worse, too, since the people who benefit from this are the ones in control. A very sad state of affairs.



Vern December 20, 2021 at 9:21 am

Agreed. Good points.


Karen Stewart December 20, 2021 at 12:42 pm

I agree wit the sentiments expressed in this article, and the letters. I think allowing ONE ADU is acceptable, but it must be made truly affordable, and should not be used for Short-term vacation rentals. The city has done a 180 degree turn from a few years ago when such units were barely allowed at all.
I do want to point out to the previous letter writer that there is not a “ big ding taken out by the fed gov on your tax return” if you cannot afford health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (a misnomer in its early days if ever there was one). Congress banished that aspect of the ACA.
Nonetheless, there are way too many people in San Diego you are toiling find her wages that prevent them from ever getting ahead or even getting by we need to increase the minimum wage and bring everyone up to a level that makes it possible for each of us to live a dignified life.


Chris December 20, 2021 at 8:31 pm

I wrote a long response in another article about 8 month ago. Many people who are moving into SD and other California cities and have the means and willingness to pay the exorbitant prices for such a small space consider the poor a nuisance and a burden. I hear a lot of that right here in progressive Hillcrest. I know it’s only a matter of time where I will be forced out. It’s an unfixable problem. My fault for not being a homeowner. On another note, I have health insurance for myself and my wife and still have to pay the penalty.


Mat Wahlstrom December 20, 2021 at 10:00 pm

I remember that, and your comment from October on NAVWAR.

What’s particularly upsetting to me is the way that “progressive” has been appropriated as simply a hashtag to be slapped on any rotten bill of goods being sold — especially by my fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community.

They all think they can ride the tiger of capital and have it claw as they want.

Have them ask Jen Campbell and Stephen Whitburn how that’s worked out for them — and our mayor-select, soon enough. Then ask these ‘Real Househusbands of Hillcrest’ how they think they’ll end up any better.


Chris December 21, 2021 at 7:27 am

Greed is greed. Even people who’ve overcome adversity can have the same human flaws as anyone else.


Mat Wahlstrom December 21, 2021 at 8:27 am

Oh absolutely. But the hypocrisy and pulling the ladder up after is grating and reprehensible.


Chris December 21, 2021 at 2:25 pm

No doubt.


sealintheSelkirks December 20, 2021 at 10:52 pm

How about a glance back at George Carlin and he take on houseless-ness. Fits into this thread.

Warning! It’s classic George, nails it dead. Cuss words included.

It’s 9’F right now and you wouldn’t believe how brilliantly clear the sky is.



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