By Dave Schwab
The landscape is littered with plans to house the homeless.
Which is best? Do they compete? Offset each other? Work harmoniously together?
Does it all mesh? Or is it like separate pieces in a jigsaw puzzle? How will it all come together?
Bill Bostad, chief development officer for Father Joe’s Villages, believes the seeming patchwork quilt of homeless housing initiatives being offered these days is basically good, cooperative, and a collective step forward.
“[Father Joe’s] plan is designed to be complementary,” Bolstad said. “We need to know that, no matter what we do, it is working to end homelessness, putting people into housing. It’s not complicated. What it comes down to is we need to produce thousands of more [housing] units over the years ahead.”
A primary difficulty in trying to house people who’ve fallen through the cracks to land on the street is a function of the most basic tenet of economics: supply and demand.
“We need to make housing more affordable for San Diegans who are being priced out of our city because of California’s housing shortage,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer, who’s lobbying in favor of the new “Housing SD” plan.
That plan is a set of policy changes addressing the high price of housing for low- and middle-income San Diegans by increasing housing supply, lowering costs and promoting smart growth.
One recent piece of legislation has changed the city’s municipal code to make it easier to build companion units, also known as “granny flats.” Another revised program encourages affordable and green development by speeding up the permitting process for qualifying projects, hopefully spurring more housing construction.
Faulconer agrees housing availability is the key, but that it has to improve drastically on the supply side if homeless are to be transitioned successfully off the street, and ultimately, into permanent housing, whatever form that might take.
“The changes we’ve made are the first of many steps we’re taking this year to lower housing costs and increase housing options for folks struggling during this affordability crisis,” said Faulconer. “San Diegans can’t afford for us to wait.”
San Diego’s housing crunch has been well-documented, with more than 70 percent of San Diegans being deemed unable to afford to buy a house at the county’s median home cost of more than $500,000 — making San Diego one of the least affordable markets in the nation.
To address the shortage of affordable homes and apartments, Faulconer and a bipartisan group of elected officials and housing advocates have unveiled the Housing SD plan, which includes a dozen strategies to spur the construction of low-income and middle-class housing. These efforts will include incentives and streamlined development standards, speeding up the review process; directing funding toward affordable housing; and encouraging growth in transit-friendly areas, while supporting the goals of the city’s aggressive Climate Action Plan (CAP).
The CAP calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city while also while planning for all electricity used in the city to be in renewable form by 2035.
“It’s a critical issue, housing affordability, the housing stock,” Bostad said. “San Diego’s rental vacancy rate is one of the nation’s lowest, which means landlords have their pick of who they rent to, and renters are really challenged with the low-income and the homeless hanging around the fringes.”
Bostad said there is an overarching strategy among the myriad plans being scattered around to somehow provide an additional 2,000 housing units in San Diego over the next five years.
“And we’re doing that through a combination of new construction on properties that [Father Joe’s] own, or by the city’s efforts to rehab old, outdated motel-type properties,” Bostad said. “There’s always hurdles to clear.
While Bostad remains encouraged, he also admitted there are still hurdles to address. They have a number of proposals in the works but need to find rundown sites that are already developed and simply need to be rehabilitated for use. He added that Father Joe’s brain trust has a list of 80 properties that could, conceivably, be converted for homeless or low-income use.
“We’re looking for locations, neighborhoods within a 10-mile radius of Downtown, along transit [bus, trolley] lines, properties we can improve, properties maybe where neighbors would be thankful there’s new management put in place,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new City Council Select Committee on Homelessness recently directed staff to “flesh out” quick-and-easy measures to ease homelessness on San Diego’s streets.
Homelessness Committee chair Chris Ward has suggested establishing temporary housing at Golden Hall in the Downtown Civic Center and/or at Qualcomm Stadium practice field, as two “menu options” in the homeless plight fight.
Cate noted recently that “All things are on the table,” when it comes to vetting homelessness.
And the problem is worsening.
This January’s annual tally of the area’s transient population revealed 5,619 homeless in the city of San Diego — up 10.3 percent from last year. Of that number, 3,231 were living on the streets, hundreds more in their vehicles.
The city’s homelessness committee asked staff to return with a report on the progress they’ve made in the homeless plight fight in September.
Ward is also advocating that the city needs to provide additional facilities for the homeless to stash their belongings while they seek work or social services, as current storage options located Downtown are maxed out.