City Council

Council Moves to Update Low-Income Housing Development Regulations

This is the first change to affordable housing requirements in nearly two decades.

a city council sits in meeting
NBC 7/Alexis Rivas

San Diego City Council approved the first change to affordable housing requirements in nearly two decades on Tuesday. The 7-2 vote comes after a similar effort failed to make it off the mayor's desk last year.

So what makes this round different?

For starters, last year there was loud opposition from developers. But this year, those same critics reached a deal with a rare ally: affordable housing advocates.

The compromise earned the support of the business community, two more councilmembers and now Mayor Faulconer.

That support is important because last year the council passed a similar effort, only to see it vetoed by Faulconer after pushback from developers.

This year’s new ordinance changed several things that prevented its approval last year.

Developers can charge renters more for low-income housing. Developers need to set aside 10% of their housing units for families earning 60% of the median income, whereas last year’s income level was 50%.

In exchange, the city is nearly doubling the fines it can levy against developers who fail to meet those standards, from nearly $13 per square foot to $25 per square foot.

Also, the new rules will not go into effect immediately. Rather, they’ll be phased in over a 5-year period.

Within minutes of the council’s vote, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office e-mailed NBC 7 the following written statement:

“The whole point of updating this ordinance is to spur the construction of more affordable housing for San Diegans, and we shouldn’t accept anything less. The previously adopted ordinance would have done the opposite so I vetoed it. The ordinance passed today is a true compromise and I look forward to signing it into law.”

“We were always really clear we wanted a compromise,” said Stefanie Benvenuto with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, an organization that opposed last year’s ordinance but voiced support for the revised proposal Tuesday.

“We were never out the gate saying, you know, we’re absolutely going to oppose changes," Benvenuto said. "It was a matter of finding the compromise that worked. The proposals in previous iterations, we felt, made it so expensive to build housing it would be prohibitive.”

While many labor and affordable housing advocates saw today as an encouraging step forward in the fight against San Diego’s housing crisis, not everyone left the council chambers happy.

"We were opposed to this because we thought it was too much of a compromise,” said Joe LaCava with the Build Better San Diego Coalition. “Too much time and effort had really been spent on crafting language that really would not fundamentally make a difference in affordability in our city."

Keith Maddox with the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council agreed that more needs to be done to increase the amount of affordable housing, but believed the ordinance was a strong start.

"Get real,” Maddox said. “We have to make changes because both the workers that keep this city moving forward and this city itself is paying a big price every single day that we don't build affordable housing. 

“What we’ve done now has already led to a stagnation of not building affordable housing. Doing nothing is not acceptable here. We have to do more. We have to build. So failing to take action here today and moving forward a policy was definitely not an option,” he added.

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