Providing capital for housing is key to affordability and a healthy community

800 300 Nadine Ono

(Photo courtesy Ricardo Flores)

California Forward is committed to advancing policy intersections that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can prosper. To move this forward, we must address the racial and geographic inequities that have been exacerbated by a public health and economic crisis, and we must answer the call to dismantle structural racism. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series amplifies the stories of Californians who are committing their time and talent to solutions that embrace equity, the environment, and the economy.

When Ricardo Flores lost his bid for the San Diego City Council in 2016, it put him on a path to make a big impact on his community as executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)-San Diego. After years of working for elected officials, he now works to transform low- to moderate-income neighborhoods into healthy and sustainable communities by providing capital for making housing more affordable and promoting economic and workforce development.

LISC, a non-profit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), has made a niche for itself by making pre-development capital available to affordable housing developers at low interest rates. The initial capital allows a developer enough time to purchase a property, obtain the entitlements and due diligence and get a construction loan from a bank. Once the construction loan has been granted, LISC steps out of the process and either gives the capital back to the bank or recirculates it on another project.

“LISC has this really interesting perch to be able to talk about these things, because we are basically a non-profit bank,” said Flores, a native of the San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, also where LISC-San Diego is headquartered. “It became really apparent there was a need to understand how this product gets financed, especially in places like San Diego, that are oftentimes very resistant to taking out money to build affordable housing.”

California Dream Index Fact: In 2018, more than 27% of San Diegans spent more than 30% of their income on housing. *Launching at the 2020 California Economic Summit, the California Dream Index is a tool that measures and tracks economic mobility.

Some of the LISC projects include:

  • The Nook East Village in downtown San Diego with 91 units of mixed-income micro apartments,
  • The New Palace Hotel in downtown San Diego with 80 units of affordable, supportive senior housing, and
  • LISC-San Diego is currently working on helping finance an affordable housing complex in the City Heights neighborhood

LISC is also leading an effort to look at redlining and how the use of single-family zoning laws has made it not only difficult to build housing, but also kept communities separated. Allowing more units on a single lot is a win-win for both property owners and those looking for housing.

Flores added, “If you allow for each parcel — say a 5,000-7,000 square foot parcel — of land to be subdivided, you’re not only enriching the property owner, but you’re also providing that lower price point everybody’s trying to find.”

The issue of redlining is not new but continues to shape housing today and has become more prominent with the recent focus on racial justice. “LISC is actually an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Flores. “The last piece of the Civil Rights legislation is housing rights legislation,” Flores explained. “What we have to start to get back to a little more, is that social justice part of it.”

Some of the steps Flores thinks San Diego should take to make housing more affordable and attainable include:

  • Make capital for affordable housing more accessible.
  • Pass Measure A, a $900-million bond measure that aims to create 7,500 affordable homes for low-income households in the City of San Diego. It’s on the November 3 ballot.
  • Address zoning issues, like redlining, that prevent multi-unit housing in neighborhoods that are predominantly single-family housing.

Flores’ vision for success also includes tackling employment and education issues in underserved areas.

How does Flores compare the work he’s currently doing with that of an elected official he once aspired to become? “I find that the job I’m doing now is more impactful because I’m not in that weird world of politics.” He cited the latest California legislative session where politics prevented major housing bills from passing and also sees that his current work is making real change in the communities LISC serves.

Flores is a supporter of the California Economic Summit and has played an active role in advancing housing equity through local, regional and state policy. He is vehemently leading the fight to end homelessness which he describes as “one of the most urgent moral issues of our time.” Flores is leading this work in San Diego to address the growing inequities and create housing policies that work for all Californians.

The Voices of Shared Prosperity stories will be shared in advance of the 2020 California Economic Summit, taking place on December 3-4.


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono