Reader Rant: ‘San Diego does not have a luxury housing shortage’

by on January 9, 2023 · 25 comments

in San Diego

The following on point Letter to the Editor today 1-9-23 at the U-T says it all:

By Lisa Mortensen

San Diego does not have a luxury housing shortage.

“America’s Finest City” has a shortage of affordable housing.

As long as San Diego’s for-profit developer donors are given carte blanche to build without oversight or proper foresight on what the future holds, the housing shortage will only get worse.

Expanding the transit walkability index from one half mile to one mile does not account for terrain, safety or schedules.

Without upgrading vital transportation infrastructure and eliminating the for-profit component, in five to 10 years, we will have a surplus of expensive, empty buildings, for-lease signs at businesses who are unable to get customers to their restaurants due to lack of parking, and, sadly, still no viable public transit system.

Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us. We are the taxpayers/voters who hired the Mayor and City Council to work for us. Let San Diegans have a say on our future.

Lisa Mortensen is a resident of Mission Hills.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb January 9, 2023 at 3:35 pm

Lisa is spot on! The greatest need for housing is rental housing for the bottom 30% of median income. The next greatest need is for the 30% to 50% of median income. Market rate housing is out of reach for those folks, and merely building more housing will not address their needs.

Someone pointed out in another comment on this site that a new 531 unit housing project will offer only 22 “affordable” units. This is disgraceful!


Chris January 9, 2023 at 5:56 pm

That would be me. Realistically, the concept of designated “affordable housing” is a joke and a complete non starter. Even the people who advocate for it publicly will admit that much behind close doors. And to add to the frustration, rental units like the 531 rooms going up in Kearney Mesa are not going to attract a lot of new residents. If that unit are like the units in the uptown area, at best it will be under half occupied and prices will not come down to attract new renters.


retired botanist January 9, 2023 at 3:57 pm

Thank you, Lisa, for pointing out, once again, the obvious. And however/wherever one defines “America’s finest city”, I can assure you it does not have anywhere near enough ‘affordable housing”. This is a national, urgent crisis that has been delegated to local municipalities to solve, and the failure is spectacular…pick your city. At this point, I lay the blame on City planners (wherever you are), whose job it is to review these “condo, complex,’ but wait! we’re installing a park'” proposals and reject them soundly for not meeting the needs of the local populations who need affordable rental space. What’s “affordable”, you ask? Apparently, don’t ask a City planner that question. How clueless our (pick your City) City officials are with respect to what is “affordable”!! When will we realize we have our own “third world problem”?! Oh wait. We don’t see it that way…the unsheltered are just the mentally unstable who don’t want housing…. Disgusting POV. If we achieve nothing else in 2023, no surprise given our Congress, I can only hope we make inroads to the appalling American crisis of the homeless! The states, in our Union of Democracy, have completely failed in their duty to allocate federal funds towards this issue, across America. Imo, this must be a federally mandated solution as the States have abrogated their responsibility to this issue, as they have in some many other federally subsidized programs. SO shameful.


Greg January 9, 2023 at 7:20 pm

If you refuse the construction of pricier housing, then whoever would’ve occupied that housing now outbids someone else for housing elsewhere in the market. Such a proposal is absurd, if banning the construction of such units would solve the current housing crisis then so would the demolition of existing luxury and market rate housing.

Conversely, allowing as much market rate and luxury construction as developers want to build will free up other housing on the market. Thus reducing prices across the board according the law of supply and demand.

The current problem is caused by NIMBYs uniting forces with thinkers like you and blocking all new development thus creating the massive shortage we have now.


Chris January 9, 2023 at 8:38 pm

“Thus reducing prices across the board according the law of supply and demand.”

You guys seem to really insist on convincing people you really belive this, yet the fact is you don’t, and you know it’s simply not true. And it really has nothing to do with NIMBYism (another opinion you don’t really have).
I’ve pointed this you countless times on the Rag about all the multi family units that are sitting less than 50 occupied and folks like you insist you are unaware of any of these units. You really just don’t give up do you?


Paul Webb January 10, 2023 at 9:43 am

This is known as “trickle down” housing policy. Build housing for the rich and eventually it will be old and rundown enough for the less affluent to occupy. This is not only criminally cynical but, as it has been the housing policy for the hundred or so years, it is a policy designed to fail.

NYMBYISM does play a role, but the fact remains that the greatest need for housing is housing for people who simply cannot afford the type of rents that are being charged and who will likely never be able to pay for market rate housing. Existing rental units, including many that are affordable, are being bought by large property owners and the rents jacked up to unaffordable prices.


Greg January 12, 2023 at 12:00 pm

“Build housing for the rich and eventually it will be old and rundown enough for the less affluent to occupy.”
I never said any such thing. Any new construction, including on the higher end of the market absorbs demand for the existing housing stock. It’s not a matter of waiting 40 years for a building to become rundown but rather the immediate reduction in demand for all the other housing in the city that results when a new building is constructed. It’s not “trickle-down”, it’s more like flood-down.

“and who will likely never be able to pay for market rate housing”
The vast majority of the population could afford market rents even a few decades ago, it’s not some impossibility. What’s changed is that the population has almost doubled since 1960 and it is insanely more difficult for developers to build anything.


retired botanist January 12, 2023 at 4:20 pm

Greg, that “majority who could afford market rates a few decades ago”? First, I don’t believe that and, second, has the minimum wage appropriately escalated along with the extraordinary rise in rental rates? Nevermind the lack of availability. No. Low income people struggled with rental rates and constraints 20 years ago- I know, as a lower income earner in 1998 when I moved to San Diego and could hardly afford my rent at Mariner’s Cove…hardly an upmarket dwelling at the time! Then I moved to Hillcrest for 12 yrs, but it was hard scrabble in a small apt keeping afloat and raising a child. Then, as an empty nester, moved to OB (um, Voltaire, not south OB) and ultimately I was priced out of that as well. I am not, bless them, someone who had to live out of my car, thankfully, but as they say, I was still just one paycheck from living under the freeway. One has to walk in the shoes to fully understand the constraints. The power for change rests with municipal policies and planning boards…they maybe can’t raise the minimum wage, but they sure can police the availability of space, the control of STVR units, the laws that allow landlords to gouge things like application fees, etc. Its astounding to me that this problem has persisted for so long in our 1st world America. “Buy a home- mortgage is cheaper than rent” has been the mantra from those who simply don’t get it. Ok, rant over- thanks for listening/reading. :-)


Paul Webb January 14, 2023 at 7:30 am

Greg, you may not have said the quiet part out loud, but that is certainly what you are espousing. Market rate housing will always seek the highest return, which especially given today’s land prices, will gravitate to the higher end of the price spectrum. Just look at the new home and new apartments for rent ads in th UT.


Frank J January 10, 2023 at 9:19 am

You don’t hear “America’s finest city” often anymore. I use the term ‘America’s fiscal pity’. As long as SCOTUS gives permission for the richest to own the legislators, greed will be the enemy of the people.


retired botanist January 9, 2023 at 4:04 pm

And thx to Paul Webb for his endorsement of Lisa’s opinion! :-)


Chris January 9, 2023 at 6:22 pm

This may be a truly unsolvable problem that will not get better for the foreseeable future and we may need to accept our doom. The whole concept of designated “affordable” as I mentioned above is a non starter. Outside of government mandated price caps (which has its own consequences), this situation is just not going to get better. The crazy thing is, if prices are truly market driven, then why are so many places over 50 unoccupied? Are the property management companies making enough of a profit with the small # of occupants they have? Or are they willing to lose money?


kh January 14, 2023 at 10:23 am

It is market driven. The problem is the market is not really for homes to live in but rather for investment vehicles with tax incentives. And often for foreign entities.


Chris January 9, 2023 at 6:44 pm
Paul Webb January 10, 2023 at 9:49 am

Which, by the way, works out to 6.7% of the units being “affordable.” And they will probably be studio or one-bedroom units that are not sized appropriately for a family.


sealintheSelkirks January 9, 2023 at 7:11 pm

The term ‘Affordable’ should be based on the Federal Poverty Level for monthly rent, not median income. Or maybe how about using each state’s Minimum Wage as a benchmark in which the cost would be different for each state. Missouri at $7.25, up here in WA over $15 now.

30% of income would certainly help the full-time workers that are living in their cars at least I would think.

And it should be severely restricted! No hedge fund investing, no vulture capitalism, buying up entire neighborhoods not allowed, no absentee landlords, no get-rich schemes, etc etc.

Boy wouldn’t this piss off the wealthy ‘shareholders’ like those behind Black Rock and so many other Wall Street slimeball corporations that are jacking up the rent like a out of control meth-head. Greed does seems to be addictive…

I read recently that BR as a single entity owns more homes than anybody else in the entire world.



Bearded OBcean January 10, 2023 at 1:05 pm

Luxury units get built because that’s what developers have to build in order for a project to pencil out. Coupled with high interest rates and banks tightening up lending requirements, don’t expect much to begin going vertical if the loan wasn’t already in place by mid-2022.

Nimby’s and Yimby’s litter the landscape, but look toward the city if you have an issue. There’s a difference between the institutional builders and local builders. All run into issues with the city, but local builders run into problems caused by the city continuously, a city which places a heavy fee burden on developers that can run 50% of the total project cost. It’s the year 2023 and there are still fees that have to be paid via mail or hand.

We talk about affordable, but the real missing ingredient is mid-tier inventory for those making 80%-120% of AMI. The city will find a way to bring affordable product to market on city-owned land in the next decade, but no one can build something that targets the middle of the market, leaving high-end and low-end construction.


Geoff Page January 10, 2023 at 1:30 pm

The biggest cost for development is land. I have a small Craftsman cottage that has a ridiculous value today. But, the value of the house structure is a mere fraction, and I mean mere, of the total value. Anyone buying my property today could demo the home and put up several units, each of which would have to carry part of the land value before building or permit costs. This has happened all over Roseville and none of it was “affordable,” but they sold. How to solve that problem? The land is valuable precisely because of the changes that now allow so many units on a single family zoned lot.


kh January 10, 2023 at 2:05 pm

It’s time to rein in real estate speculation, and do an empty home tax. I’d also increase the tax exemption for owner-occupied residences. It’s currently $7,000 which is a joke. This means 7K of the house value is exempt from property taxes. That’s a whopping $7 per month. It should be closer to $100K if not more I’d also rescind Prop-13 on 2nd homes. This puts an unfair tax burden on 1st time home buyers, and inflates investment property values.

Builders wont build luxury 2nd “homes” if there’s no demand for them. You’re certainly entitled to buy/build one, but you should not get tax breaks for it!


Geoff Page January 10, 2023 at 2:19 pm

Well said, I agree with all of that.


Tanner January 10, 2023 at 2:23 pm

I love seeing all the strong support for much needed affordable housing among this group. Worth reading is “Homelessness is a Housing Problem” by Gregg Colburn & Clayton Aldern. For the TLDR version, see this recent Atlantic article which provides great context for how we have underproduced housing, at all price points, for decades:


Chris January 13, 2023 at 4:57 am
Geoff Page January 13, 2023 at 1:49 pm
Chris January 13, 2023 at 6:11 pm

Well at least Houston has a world championship roller ball team:


Lisa Mortensen January 16, 2023 at 9:58 am

Thank you all for your comments both pro and con to my article. I love the name calling (NIMBY) without facts but just to create division. If you want to truly solve the housing issue, you need to start where you agree and go from there. Stop the verbal snark and do the heavy lifting of creating affordable housing (100%).
I’ve been in the real estate business for 46 years and I can tell you, if we are at the lowest point of affordability ever and also the highest number of homeless living on the streets, the mayor’s grand thinking is not working. The mayor ignores any input from us regular folks that may contradict his views and may bring out his inexperience. Is that a way to run a city?
Our city is going in the wrong direction and rational heads need to be in the conversation, not high-priced consultants to line the mayor’s pockets but those who want to lend their expertise for the good of the city we call home. (What a strange concept).
Otherwise, we will have more Ash Street deals by a mayor who is driving us into municipal bankruptcy.
WE NEED TRULY AFFORDABLE HOUSING (100%) for those who are working professionals who are economically challenged by the high cost of living.
If you believe that those who choose to live in their own squalor on the street will just pick themselves up and move into the new complexes that are currently being built by for-profit developers, I have ocean-view property in Arizona to sell you (not).
So, let’s stop the snark and throwing stones at one another and come to the table to work on a plan that will do what it proports to do, get people into affordable housing. No gimmicks of the city’s definition of ‘affordable’ which is out of reach. Or you can continue to do verbal debate while the city burns around you. The choice is yours.


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