San Diego Has a Shortage of Affordable Housing – Busting a Few Myths on Why

by on May 12, 2023 · 17 comments

in San Diego

[Editordude: the following was originally submitted as a comment to a post about the hundreds of San Diegans who rallied last weekend against the city’s housing policies. We thought the comment good enough for its own post. Danna Givot was one of the rally organizers.]

By Danna Givot / May 11, 2023

I have not heard anyone say we have built too many homes in San Diego.  What I have heard people say is that what we have a shortage of AFFORDABLE HOUSING, not luxury housing.

I don’t hear many people disagree with this fact, which is supported by this study by the San Diego Housing Commission  . Check out the chart on page 7 to see where the shortage of housing is in San Diego – at what income levels. When you compare the number of units available by income level (Figure 12 on page 20) to the actual number of households in each income level (Figure 11 on page 19), you can see exactly where the housing shortage is in San Diego. (You can see this charted in the second slide here .)

When the figures were collected (study published in 2020), the city was short approximately 46,000 units for extremely low-income households and 1,200 units for very low-income households. (Note: There was also a gap for above moderate income households, but this is not a problem as these people can live in less expensive housing. The problem comes when people cannot afford more expensive housing.)

Now, these numbers can be misleading because families and individuals live together in groups when they cannot afford accommodations and they are “housing-burdened,” so it is very likely these numbers are understated. That doesn’t change the conclusion that the housing “crisis” is not at all income levels; the meaningful shortage is of truly affordable housing.

For those who say it is a simple “supply and demand” problem, land is a finite commodity and there are too many other variables to expect supply to lower rents and land costs in San Diego or most high demand cities. In fact, every time the city upzones properties, it is contributing to rising land values, which in turn leads to increasing housing costs and rents.

For those who would like to read more about just how much of a supply increase it might take to bring down rents even a couple percentage points, I recommend reading this 2018 Federal Reserve Study .

I refer you to Table 3 on page 23 for the gist of the article. San Diego is not one of the cities listed, but the results are generalizable and indicate that if a major city adds 20% more housing units, it could anticipate less than a 2% decrease in rents as a result of that increase in supply.

And for those who prescribe to the theory of “trickle-down housing,” it is said to require a 35 year cycle before that housing will go from market-rate to affordable, if it ever follows that path.

For those who are familiar with housing prices in many older neighborhoods (Kensington comes to mind), those old homes have not lost any value – quite the contrary. And even for homes built in the 1980’s (Sabre Springs in North County is an example), those homes have done nothing but go up in value as they are now 35 years old or more. “Trickle-down housing” is not going to solve San Diego’s affordable housing shortage any time soon, if ever.

I have also heard people talk about where the optimal place to locate dense housing is if the goals are truly to increase transit usage, minimize greenhouse gases and vehicle miles traveled, encourage economic development, promote affordable housing and equity, and achieve the city’s other climate action goals (mobility mode shift, expanding the urban canopy versus shrinking it).

According to SANDAG’s own research, that optimal place would not be beyond 1/2 mile walking distance from major transit stops because 92% of transit users in San Diego walk 1/2 mile or less to access transit.

In fact, SANDAG’s research shows that 70% of transit users in San Diego walk 1/4 mile or less to access transit, so putting dense housing beyond 1/2 mile walking distance and expecting residents of that housing to give up their cars and adopt transit as their primary mode of travel is unrealistic and will not achieve the city’s professed goals noted above. Expanding the footprint of dense housing away from transit corridors will undermine achieving the goals noted.

Further, the state and the federal government generally do not consider projects beyond 1/2 mile from transit to be “transit-oriented development.” Therefore, San Diego will be making most of these projects further from transit ineligible for state and federal grant funding for help with its $5.17 billion and growing infrastructure deficit.

I urge you to consider the facts and not hearsay by people. I have tried to give you some factual information to consider, with sources. You will draw your own conclusions, as you should. I would also encourage you to do more fact-finding of your own. The Internet has made this possible, allowing each of us the opportunity to educate ourselves about subjects that are important to us and our communities. Thank you for reading this and considering what I have written.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

LBruce May 12, 2023 at 3:03 pm

Amen to this! It is very frustrating when people who want to radically densify neighborhoods far from transit for no good reason/data, say to those of us who oppose it, that we’re against “housing.” Of course not. But put it where it makes sense, people!


Paul Webb May 12, 2023 at 3:26 pm

Danna, stop trying to confuse people with facts!


Greg May 12, 2023 at 8:08 pm

It is also important to remember there are many ways to increase the supply of housing by disincentivizing non-primary residence uses of existing housing stock. This isn’t talked about because it doesn’t benefit big $$$ whereas upzoning immediately provides large benefits to existing landowners.


sealintheSelkirks May 13, 2023 at 10:05 am

Back when I was surfing Baja we couldn’t buy property in Mexico. I’m assuming that hasn’t changed in the decades since. The way around that was to hire a Mexican lawyer who would be the ‘legal’ owner of the property a US citizen paid for. There was a lot of this going on in the late 60s/70s.

The link below is (I think) the only subject I’ve ever agreed with Florida Gov. Duh Satan on but it needs to be expanded to include all ‘investment, hedge, and any other kind of monetization of housing by Wall St. firms’ that are solely to increase profits. He’s doing it because he’s a Fascist white nationalist of course.

The most interesting part is when Ana talks some reality about how sociopath-operated ‘investment’ makes all of this worse. I honestly don’t see anything coming to change the direction the path of ‘monetization’ is taking us down.

A second point. How about NOBODY from ANY country they are not a citizen and resident in be allowed to own property in other countries? That sure would piss off the wealthy elite of this world, wouldn’t it?

DeSantis Signs Law Blocking Foreign Nationals From Buying Property
Massive mistake made in this country; let the corporations own everything and then buy the politicians.

But wait! It’s NOT just housing, it’s everything including KILLING PETS!

Greedy Private Equity Goons Are Killing Pets

Is there no way to stop this insanity? Not in this country.



DiegoK May 13, 2023 at 11:45 am

Why aren’t the YIMBYs asking Mayor Gloria and Elo Rivera why the City doesn’t use more of the land it controls for affordable housing?

Last Summer, Gloria announced, to much fanfare, that there would be a new Oak Park library. When asked if there would be a housing component, the answer was NO! The high price of land is one of the major hurdles to affordable housing and the City has an extensive portfolio of land (libraries, fire station, airports…). According to the City, it controls 1,600 parcels totaling 123,000 acres.

The City has instead focused its energy on up-zoning neighborhoods, which is driving up property values and property tax revenue for the City, when sold, and does nothing to create affordable housing.


Mary Katherine Reeber May 14, 2023 at 2:47 pm

Why isn’t the City owned land in Midway being dedicated to a moderate to low income village with recreation, child care etc instead of posh condos, a hotel and a jumbotron arena?


lyle May 15, 2023 at 9:03 am

That area was once affordable housing (Frontier). The city chose to make it an entertainment area. Our fine city seems to have a habit of favoring entertainment over housing. Other examples would be the Stadium area and the NTC redevelopment. NTC had a lot of buildings designed and built as barracks that would have been easy to convert to some sort of affordable housing.


Chris May 15, 2023 at 10:11 am

The whole RTC area of NTC is still nothing but dilapidated barracks. Probably no plans to do anything with it except let it further dilapidate.


Michael Young May 13, 2023 at 10:11 pm

Where’s Danna’s solution? All this is is someone shooting down ideas with a shallow reading of the facts and predictably laughable conclusions. What the author misses is that nobody is suggesting any of the strategies is THE strategy, because in the complex world of Southern California housing, it’s likely ALL of the matters she critiques COMBINED more or less are the solution.

It’s the LENDERS seeking maximum return who dictate what’s built, not the whims of developers. Who’s money do you think developers spend when they build something?

My solution, borne of 45 years in city planning, is to address housing affordability by rezoning strip commercial along major highways, and shopping centers and parking lots at industrial and office parks for mixed use and residential use, and STOP cramming high density into single family neighborhoods. It’s NOT NECESSARY if we repurpose and reimagine so much of our non residential lands, especially along our major highways.


lyle May 15, 2023 at 8:50 am

SDHC has applied for a grant to convert 2147 Abbott into housing for those earning less than $27k.


Mat Wahlstrom May 15, 2023 at 5:41 pm

Hey, lyle: how were you able to put a live link in your comment? That would be a really handy thing to know!


lyle May 15, 2023 at 9:35 pm

I’m not sure of the difference btwn a “live link” and a dead link, but in this case from this webpage, it was simply copy/paste the url. I’m glad it worked for you.; always good to get a little feedback.


lyle May 15, 2023 at 9:39 pm

Oh. I just noticed that someone fixed my comment. When I submitted, it included a very long (like three lines) URL, but now it is just one word, underlined. So I reckon your question (and my thanks) should go to someone else.


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2023 at 11:34 am

Yeah, those looooonnngg links screw up our comment section on the front page.


lyle May 15, 2023 at 8:54 am

If the above link doesn’t work, check out this mornings VOSD Morning Report. The article contains a hyperlink that may work for you. SDHC is also moving to acquire a motel in Midway.


chris schultz May 16, 2023 at 1:27 pm

So yes, what’s the path? The council/mayor is on one path. Danna opposes it for good reason, but what’s the path? I’ve said to pursue viable commercial to convert. We can say why it’s wrong, but what’s right?


chris schultz May 17, 2023 at 10:03 am

Is the property breaking ground near alvarado hospital for more students? or the public? Besides likely apartments?


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: