Housing affordability is the top priority for California’s governor. It’s the principal challenge for the mayor and the San Diego City Council. And it’s of utmost concern to the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS® (PSAR), with 2,000 members in the trenches of the local real estate industry, where rents have skyrocketed in the past decade, and would-be first-time homebuyers are struggling. PSAR recently used a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant to co-sponsor a report that convinced the city to adopt a handful of policy measures to help ease the crisis.
The grant was used to support the work of Circulate San Diego, the region’s leading nonprofit concerned with transportation and sustainable land use issues, as it developed recommendations for transit-oriented development. A prime focus of the plan was updating the city’s existing Density Bonus program, along with other incentives making it easier for in-fill development to move forward.
Tracy Morgan Hollingworth, Government Affairs Director at PSAR, served on the technical advisory board of Circulate San Diego’s Transit-Oriented Development report. Its goals were to:
- Reduce costs for new affordable and market-rate mixed-use developments near transit
- Generate more economic development from region’s transit investments
- Create better links between homes and jobs through transit
- Reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions by accommodating future growth near transit
Shortly after receiving Circulate San Diego’s report, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt five new incentives based on its recommendations. Rather than increasing density rates, the new ordinances make it faster and simpler to build housing units that are already allowed. The incentives include: an increase in the existing Density Bonus Program, which rewards developers for including a certain number of low-income units in their building projects; reducing the parking space minimum for units built close to transit stations; and allowing low-income units to be built up to a mile away from market-rate units, within a single development project, for construction efficiency.
Hollingworth notes that the beauty of the new ordinances is that they simply remove obstacles that have discouraged building where increased density has already been approved. “It’s about maximizing density to the allowed limits, not increasing the density rates. This will add desperately needed housing units where there’s existing infrastructure, and give developers and builders a fair degree of flexibility. And because it covers the entire city, it takes some of the pressure off individual neighborhoods struggling to update their community plans, which can be a lengthy and tortured process.”
Rafael Perez, a PSAR member active in city politics, attended many Circulate San Diego meetings and provided testimony for the City Council. He notes that the coalition of organizations supporting Circulate San Diego in this complex effort was highly unusual in its diversity. “You’d expect to see environmentally-focused groups getting behind transit-oriented development,” he says, “but the presence of the REALTORS® and other business groups brought valuable angles of expertise, and a critical balance, to the process. And for the City Council to have found the recommendations acceptable on both sides of the aisle, tells you how universally beneficial they’ll be. For REALTORS®,” he adds, “our involvement also demonstrates our vested interest in the region, and helps to disprove the all-too-common notion that we’re only interested in sales.”
To learn more about how the Pacific Southwest REALTORS® are working to help San Diego maximize housing density and implement transit oriented development initiatives, contact Government Affairs Director Tracy Morgan Hollingworth at 619-222-8155.