By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown & Uptown News
As the economy suffers amid the pandemic, California’s housing crisis has come into sharper focus, highlighting disparities in income and housing security. Even as many San Diegans struggle to pay the rent, housing prices are reaching record highs, most recently a median of $650,000 according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, amid tough competition for the few homes on the market. While local and state governments added some protections to ensure people remain sheltered, worry remains that this just pushes an eviction crisis into next year.
Despite a slight decrease in rents since the pandemic began and new regulations, San Diego remains an enticing market for real estate investment. Cain International, a multi-national real estate investment firm, entered the San Diego market for the first time by purchasing the recently renovated historic Spreckels Building at 625 Broadway in February. By the end of September, about one-third of the units were full. Chris Nickerson, Senior Vice President of Cain International, said the apartments are not filling as fast as they would pre-pandemic but those numbers are still good.
“Frankly, relative to some other markets, in our view, San Diego is doing quite well… and then San Diego has a lot going for it in terms of weather and quality of life to attract people moving from some of these other markets,” Nickerson said.
He referenced one trend San Diego homesellers are seeing: significant interest from Bay Area tech professionals working remotely looking for relatively cheaper places to live.
San Diego’s booming life science industry is expanding Downtown. In September, IQHQ real estate investment group acquired five-blocks of a bayfront development to create a biotech campus.
Council member Chris Ward said Downtown has long seen a reverse commute from residents in Downtown going to Carmel Valley and other areas each day for their jobs. He said moving some of those jobs to Downtown will cut down on commutes so the city can meet its climate goals. As the industry grows, he is not concerned that housing those professionals could exacerbate the housing crisis.
“We have an abundance of luxury housing Downtown that’s already built, some of which — it’s really difficult to pin down the number — may not even be filled right now, don’t even have residents down there. So we don’t see a net replacement of affordable housing units that are in the Downtown area,” Ward said.
He added that any new developments will have either affordable units in them or putting money towards the affordable housing trust fund because of inclusionary housing requirements. He said incentivizing building affordable housing will be key to meeting the shortages at the lower end of the housing market.
While luxury apartments are plentiful, affordable housing is limited. Even pre-pandemic, those who qualified for Section 8 housing vastly outnumbered the stock available, with a waiting list for housing eight to 12 years long.
To some on the ground, those shortages have gotten even worse during the pandemic.
“The overall need has definitely increased and the inventory is low,” said Stacie Perez, the housing and clinical services director at Uptown Safe Haven.
Uptown Safe Haven provides transitional housing to seriously mentally ill people with a history of homelessness. In the home-like environment, 19 clients are connected to psychiatric care and caseworks that help stabilize them as they look for permanent housing.
Some of the new clients in the haven near Cambridge Square run by Episcopal Community Services came from the San Diego Convention Center, which was converted into a homeless shelter when the pandemic began.
Designated funding for the shelter runs out at the end of the year and San Diego’s general fund is strained. There is a rush to make sure the people in the center remain housed instead of winding up back on the street. According to Ward, by October there were 700 individuals at the convention center who had already exited through a positive connection – either a family member or placed in a home. Another 400 will be moved to hotels converted into housing within the next few months.
In addition to buying hotels to convert into housing, the city has provided rental assistance to families at risk of being evicted or falling into homelessness. Still, demand is much higher than what was provided.
For some activists, this is not enough. The crisis renters are facing has spurred several protests and organizing actions. In a Sept. 30 town hall ahead of eviction filings restarting in October, activists said housing is a human right, not an investment.
During the pandemic, Ward said he has not heard of any affordable units going offline — need just outpaces availability.
According to reporting by Voice of San Diego, San Diego’s voting patterns show they are looking for dramatic solutions to the housing crisis. Although it likely fell short of being approved according to current counts, a majority of San Diegans voted for Measure A which would raise taxes to fund affordable housing. Still, the new mayor, city council and county board could change the trajectory of the housing crisis.
Even without their action, many developments are slated to be complete in 2021 with affordable housing units.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.