San Diego Leaders Urged to Set Aside Portion of NAVWAR Property for Affordable Housing

by on February 1, 2023 · 8 comments

in Military, Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Ricardo Flores /  Op-Ed San Diego Union-Tribune / Jan. 30, 2023

The Navy wants to redevelop its Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, or NAVWAR, a sprawling 70.3-acre complex in San Diego’s Midway District. According to the Navy, the site can accommodate up to 10,000 housing units, but, no surprise, there is no requirement in its request for qualifications/proposals that any of the units be affordable housing.

This is unfortunate because San Diego is experiencing an affordable housing crisis that has become a homeless crisis.

Last week, the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness reported that in December, 994 people in San Diego County had become homeless for the first time while 759 homeless people found some type of housing, an increase of 235 new homeless individuals.

One thing’s for sure: Things don’t seem to be getting any better. Not for the homeless population, and not for those of us who see pockets of our city becoming unsafe and unsanitary temporary dwellings for San Diegans who have hit on hard times.

With the number of homeless people growing at an alarming rate, most San Diegans are rightly frustrated with local government’s lack of progress on reducing homelessness. That frustration is now boiling over into anger.

What’s most frustrating to me as the head of a nonprofit community development corporation is that our elected leaders and government officials do not seem to be communicating with each other on the future of NAVWAR.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not set aside a sizable portion of NAVWAR property for more affordable housing?

I’ve not heard anyone in a position of authority propose that as a practical, if only partial, solution to our city’s growing homeless problem.

Sure, some positive efforts are being made, such as county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s recent campaign that aims to reduce homelessness in our veterans’ community.

The annual Operation Stand Down event, organized by Veterans Village of San Diego to help homeless or near-homeless veterans and their families transition to community living, provides access to human service agencies including benefits counseling, employment and training assistance, eye exams, health care screenings, housing services, legal assistance, behavioral health treatment and substance abuse counseling. Attendees often also have access to personal care providers, such as hair stylists.

Launched nearly 35 years ago, the annual Stand Down has since grown to more than 200 sites around the country and has been recognized by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans as the “most valuable outreach tool for homeless veterans.”

Recently, President Joe Biden announced his goal to reduce nationwide homelessness 25 percent by 2025.

But the fact remains, the only way to end homelessness is with a home and the NAVWAR site — as public land — should be part of that solution.

I respectfully urge San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera to form a working partnership with our congressional delegation — Reps. Scott Peters, Sara Jacobs, Juan Vargas, Mike Levin and Darrell Issa — and request that President Biden, in his role as commander in chief, designate a portion of NAVWAR as a prime site for affordable housing.

Some observers have described the NAVWAR redevelopment proposal as the largest real estate competition in the Navy’s proud history.

Rear Adm. Bradley Rosen, commander of Navy Region Southwest, hailed the project last month as “a win-win for the community and the Navy.”

But a true win-win would ensure that this historic real estate opportunity on federal property in the heart of San Diego has mandated affordable housing that could transform this site into a neighborhood that is “walkable, transportation-oriented and thriving,” as Gloria envisions.

The Navy and San Diego have a long and valued history of working together to improve our region and bolster the readiness of our national defense.

Past efforts to use surplus Navy property to benefit San Diegans have resulted in spectacular projects like Liberty Station and, most recently, the Navy Broadway Complex.

The NAVWAR project marks the latest large-scale partnership with the Navy, the city of San Diego and the private sector. Failure to push for the best project possible for residents and the Navy would be a misuse of public land.

Desperate people living on the streets of one of the world’s wealthiest cities will never be acceptable. As a region, we must do better.

Let’s connect the dots of opportunity and focus on delivering better results, with the NAVWAR site as a repurposed beacon of hope for homeless veterans and non-veterans alike.

Our elected leaders must encourage President Biden to designate a portion of NAVWAR as a prime site for affordable housing, and the president must act.

Ricardo Flores is executive director of LISC, a nonprofit community development financial institution that supports community development initiatives across the country. He lives in Kensington.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie February 1, 2023 at 12:11 pm

Flores’ suggestion is so common-sensical that I can’t see anyone of our electeds opposing it. Wait! Where am I?


Chris February 1, 2023 at 3:15 pm

“That frustration is now boiling over into anger”

That’s the understatement of the year. I’ve already told the story of a a homeless person being beaten to bleeding unconsciousness here in Hillcrest (the alley behind my apartment complex) by a resident in a neighboring building to mine. In the crazy way the world works, the homeless person got arrested but not his attacker.


laplayaheritage February 1, 2023 at 10:31 pm

Ricardo: Thank you for wonderful arguments on the need for Affordable Housing at NAVWAR / SPAWAR.

In the last years there has been an tremendous increased number of new ships and military personnel and their families stationed in San Diego.

However, the military forgot to build them off base housing they can afford

Before giving up their public property to development speculators, the military should build their own workforce, their own housing, on their public own land.


Chris February 2, 2023 at 6:34 am

And raise the BAH rates.


Lyle February 2, 2023 at 10:20 am

Great minds run on parallel paths.

The Department of Defense (DOD) identified 28 housing areas, including San Diego, where housing costs went up 20%. Now they’re giving military members in those areas an increase in the BAH. The increase starts this month and runs through the end of the year. Then a new rate takes effect on Jan. 1.


Chris February 2, 2023 at 2:49 pm

I work in a Navy ADMIN office and am aware of the rate increases to take place. This sounds cold hearted but this epitomizes why military folks really need to think about how many how many dependents they want to take on (ie how many kids do they want to have). We actually council new accessions about this when they report onboard.


Chris February 2, 2023 at 2:56 pm

But regardless, this rate increase is very much needed.


Bearded OBcean February 2, 2023 at 2:28 pm

While recognizing that San Diego is woefully short not only of affordable housing but also in middle-income housing, this is some of the most expensive real estate in San Diego. Why would it be in their interest to set aside a sizable portion of that land when the city and county own a ton of land here that they aren’t utilizing?


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