SANDAG’s new Equitable Housing committee plans homes, transit

A new Regional Equitable Housing Subcommittee has been established to connect representatives from different municipalities across the county with San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s public planning, transportation, and research agency, to identify housing approaches that address needs throughout the entire county.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, La Mesa Council Member Jack Shu, and Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner were all present for a Feb. 1 meeting where fellow committee member San Diego County District 3 Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer wasted no time in announcing the county is on track to build just 10% of the affordable housing it needs for residents.

“The housing shortage is driving up home prices and putting an entire generation of San Diegans at risk of being left behind,” Lawson-Remer said, as well as negatively impacting the climate crisis with residents pushed out from the epicenter of the city with increased commute times.

Three options are at hand, she said: continue as is and watch the situation get worse, build “the wrong houses in the wrong places with McMansions from here to Anza-Borrego,” or work together to build housing that fits diverse communities.

SANDAG Principal Regional Planner Tuere Fa’aola shared a chart of new building permits spanning the years from 1970 through 2017.

They clearly show that new housing has actually decreased over time, leaving a shortfall of 54,000 units— the county would need to build over 11,000 units each year just to keep up with population growth, a need that is not being met.

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment plan promotes infill development, emphasizes equitable housing development and promotes emissions reduction, and is designed to reflect and work in conjunction with the larger 2021 Regional Plan that calls for a sustainable communities strategy and emphasizes reduced emissions through better public transportation planning.

SANDAG’s Board of Directors adopted the RHNA plan in July 2020 with $6.8 million in state grant funds allocated for planning with non-profit partners.

Fa’aola did not specify exactly how that sum was spent or which non-profit partners were involved in the planning process.

“We anticipate our next round of funding to be $43 million and one of the things we’re looking forward to is being able to put some of that funding toward our local jurisdictions to achieve some of the housing goals,” Fa’aola said.

Most of SANDAG’s member jurisdictions have adopted or are set to adopt their housing elements, Fa’aola said, a step toward meeting the group’s regional housing goal of 171,000 units by 2029.

During time for public comments, former California State Assembly District 76 representative Lori Saldaña said she had an opportunity to visit many forms of affordable housing while in office and believes there is much to be learned about “very innovative and creative, cost-effective ways to house people” outside the county.

Some demographics come with an added burden of homelessness such as residents who have lived in the county for their entire lives yet cannot afford to do so as retirees, potentially disabled, on a fixed income.

Additionally, she said, 5% of San Diegans identify as Black or African-American, yet over 20% of homeless residents identify as such, indicating that cohort of residents is disproportionately affected.

“That is an inequity that needs to be addressed,” Saldaña said.
Potentially, she would like the county to consider smaller projects like manageable 10-unit housing developments that could be used for affordable housing, or teacher homes on school property to reduce emissions due to commute times from more affordable areas.

Resident Katherine Rhodes suggested the county pursue using places of worship as housing sites through the Yes In God’s Back Yard legislation passed in 2020 that allows churches to partner with non-profit development groups and build affordable housing in their parking lots. The genesis of that law, Rhodes said, comes from the many churches originally required by local municipal code to build large parking lots, but actually see that space stand empty the majority of the time. The YIGBY approach would essentially create affordable housing through infill opportunities, potentially benefiting the churches as well.

Rhodes, who asked the committee to specifically include homeless residents in their plans, also said the county could consider using Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to purchase trailers and tiny homes and lease them to people who could build equity and good credit while living under their own roof.

“You have so much power. You could literally do anything you want to do with this funding to help our residents,” Rhodes said.
Shu, who has been a strong proponent of transit-oriented development in La Mesa, said he would like to see cities adopt inclusionary housing policies and investigate affordable housing projects alongside public transportation.

Part of the $43 million will go toward stakeholders who will take a “comprehensive look at climate goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, vehicles miles traveled along with accelerating the production of housing” F’aola said.

SANDAG staff held information interviews with many cities during summer 2021, Fa’aola said. Based in part on that feedback, she believes there are three areas where the committee could focus their attention to help move regional goals forward: working on a Regional Equitable Housing Framework, identifying possible revenue opportunities, and working with the Regional Housing Finance Authority so ideas become funded realities.

In addition to state funding, revenue options could include affordable housing bonds, land value capture, public-private partnerships, the Regional Housing Trust Fund, housing loan programs and ballot measures.

Sotelo-Solis said she’s excited to have a measurable framework and would like to see a more direct relationship between what cities would like to accomplish and what it would take to hit measurable goals, including revitalizing older homes so they are livable.
Furthermore, she said, she wants very specific instructions required for cities to qualify for funding so those who are eligible can use funds while ineligible cities have a clear pathway to qualify for funding.

The next REHS meeting date is not yet established but is being planned for March.

Visit for more information on the subcommittee.