(photo credit: Clifton Morris)
It’s a cold hard fact: California needs more affordable housing for the working middle class. Cities and counties struggle with this issue because the loss of redevelopment funds and other sources have made it harder to provide for their residents.
In San Diego, the issue is serious. The largest and fastest growing sector in the city is hospitality and tourism, yet the sector has the lowest annual wages coming in around $28,000.
“These are people in the workforce just really not being able to make ends meet,” said Susan Riggs of the San Diego Housing Federation. “The types of jobs we’re producing in the region are low-wage jobs. In no way do they enable our residents to be self-sufficient and be able to contribute to the market.”
In fact, currently 125,000 San Diegans live below the poverty line. Recent studies show In order to be self-sufficient, you have to make about $30,000 and one in eight are not making that standard.
“The connection in San Diego between low-wage jobs and affordable housing is very strong.”
Thriving economies need a diverse workforce and an adequate workforce depends on affordable housing. Providing an opportunity for workers to contribute to their economy by living in the city they work is a win-win.
Recently, the San Diego City Council voted to increase the workforce housing offset fee, which is a development impact fee on commercial development. The fee was first adopted in 1990. In 1996 the fee was cut in half due to the economic downturn. Since then, it has remained static.
“The action the City Council took late last year was number one, a statement that the cost of living has increased significantly since 1990, and second, the demand for affordable housing has continued to rise in that time,” said Riggs.
Although this seems like a great move by the City Council, not everyone agrees. Business leaders and small business owners say the new fee is a jobs killer. They have gathered signatures to put the issue to voters. The opposition has gathered enough signatures and presented them to the Registrar of Voters who will determine if it qualifies for the June or November ballot.
Riggs is hoping for the best, as this workforce housing offset, or linkage fee, is a crucial source of funding to create housing options for the working class.
“The City Council took great pains to make sure the fee was phased in over time and certainly the timing of the fee increase is well timed with the rebound of the housing market,” said Riggs. “This is a step in the right direction for the city of San Diego to tackle its own challenges, if you will, but we need support from the state and we need support from the federal government as well.”