Last week at the San Diego Housing Federation's Affordable Housing Conference, Jack McGrory told his audience about the time former City Councilmember George Stevens had the 6-foot-plus McGrory almost backed into a corner, Stevens yelling, "Show me the money!" at McGrory's claim that the city needed to come up with $129 million each year to finance affordable housing.
The nine-digit sum would pay for the majority of 3,197 new units needed to accommodate the growing number of San Diegans being priced out of the housing market.
It's gotten to the point where you have to earn $100,000 a year to own a home in San Diego, McGrory told an audience of more than 100 folks who had gathered at Point Loma Nazarene University Friday for the 12th annual conference.
McGrory, San Diego's city manager from 1991 to 1997 and now a director with the nonprofit Price Foundation, chaired the city's Affordable Housing Task Force. Created Aug. 6, 2002 amid the city's so called Housing Day-and charged with providing a roadmap to guide the city in solving its dire housing need-the task force handed over its final report to the council in June, emphasizing the need for bold solutions and a fix to a system that produced only 985 affordable units between 1998 and 2002.
According to task force numbers, housing development between 1990 and 2000 has left the city with an unmet need of roughly 10,000 affordable units.
While the City Council's Land Use and Housing subcommittee has thrice reviewed the recommendations, McGrory on Friday suggested the council isn't acknowledging the urgency required to genuinely address the city's affordable housing crisis. Implementation [of task force's ideas] is not moving fast enough right now, McGrory told CityBeat. It's a politically tough issue.... It needs a lot of political leadership and it's time for the mayor and council to step up and take the time.
He said he's urging the City Council this week to declare another housing day in November when task force recommendations can be discussed publicly.
Key recommendations include asking each of the city's 47 community planning groups to identify sites where 2,500 multi-family units can be built during the next two and a half years; creation of a city housing czar whose job would include making sure affordable housing remains a priority; asking voters to approve an $11-a-month parcel tax, the proceeds from which would go toward financing a $1 billion bond to pay for citywide infrastructure improvements; and asking the City Council and Redevelopment Agency to nudge up the percentage of federal funds and redevelopment money that's currently earmarked for affordable housing. The task force also suggested that if the city bumps up its hotel room tax-which is currently among the lowest of major cities-and car rental tax, the revenue could provide an additional $61 million annually for housing.
On Monday, however, one of those recommendations-earmarking a 2-cent hotel-room tax increase to affordable housing, which would provide $21 million each year-fell off the table. The City Council voted to let voters decide in March whether to increase the tax by two and a half cents, but the money would go to parks, library and public safety improvements, with a considerable chunk going to tourism promotion. McGrory on Friday was critical of the way the council had divvied up the tax increase without considering affordable housing.
City Councilmember Toni Atkins, who's been the council's most vocal proponent of affordable housing solutions, said the hotel-tax increase, if approved by voters, would go toward needs that are equally pressing. She noted that the council's Land Use and Housing Committee has been considering the task force recommendations closely, and we'll ultimately see a number of those recommendations realized.
The Affordable Housing Task Force worked for 10 months to produce this report, she said. The council needs adequate time to review and address the recommendations.
Atkins also noted the irony of a recent public call-for-action by the Chamber of Commerce, which criticized the City Council for dropping the ball on the affordable housing issue, arguing that housing costs are driving businesses out of San Diego. These are the same organizations that fought us tooth and nail to thwart us in our attempt to pass an inclusionary housing policy, which requires that 10 percent of new units be sold at federally designated affordable prices.
Donald Cohen, director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a social and economic justice think tank and a member of the Affordable Housing Task Force, said the tricky part to getting the recommendations realized is the financing issue.
We need a bunch of money, he acknowledged. [We've got] a mayor who's not really committed to doing a lot on this issue.
The mayor can't duck this issue because it involves new taxes, said McGrory.
Contacted by CityBeat, a spokesperson for Mayor Dick Murphy said flatly that the mayor opposes tax increases, though on Oct. 22, the council's Rules Committee, which the mayor chairs, is expected to consider tax increases proposed by the task force.