Last Aug. 6 we all made a big whoop-dee-doo about declaring a "housing state of emergency" in San Diego. The City Council that day endorsed the idea of inclusionary housing citywide-requiring developers to build affordable units when they proposed market-rate projects-created a $55 million bond subsidy for low-cost housing and established an affordable housing task force.
Well, the task force has been quietly going about its business ever since, and, while most of the media is transfixed by the hubbub surrounding the FBI's City Hall raid, it has finally produced some recommendations. True to custom, the recommendations have already been greeted with scorn in some corners of the city.
For our part, we like the ambition evidenced in the task force's report. The group took its job seriously, and it's obvious they did their homework. We may not agree with all the recommendations, but they certainly merit plenty of consideration and debate. We hope the report is not dismissed out of hand-that would be a waste of time and a darn shame.
When it comes time to consider the recommendations, most of the attention will be paid to the new and raised taxes, as it should-taxes form the basis of the proposed revenue generators. But people should take the time to check out the task force reports. It's actually some pretty interesting reading.
The task force says we're going to need 113,669 new housing units over the next 10 years, 64,788 of them in the various "affordable" categories. But the group set an easier-to-reach goal of 84,147 units, 47,964 affordable. Obviously, it takes subsidies to make affordable-housing development pencil out.
To get there from here, we're going to need roughly $182 million a year, the task force concludes. The group thinks it can come up with $38.2 million from available local sources. For example, increasing the funding from the Redevelopment Agency's budget would generate an additional $5 million a year for affordable housing. They also think we can cobble together $19.2 million with a series of cost-saving measures. That still leaves a funding gap of about $125 million a year.
To help fill that hole, the task force identifies a series of tax hikes that would generate about $115 million. They include increases in taxes paid by people who stay in hotels and rent cars, people who own businesses and people who own restaurants, people who sell property and people who run parking lots.
For the sake of argument, CityBeat's fine with most of those recommendations. We don't like the tax on restaurant receipts-it's expensive enough to run a restaurant, and if we tax restaurants and raise the business license tax, we'll be hitting those folks twice. But slicing the restaurant tax off this list of options means we'll have $21.8 million less for housing.
Among the interesting findings is what a low-tax city San Diego is. We pay nothing for trash collection. San Diego also charges less than other California cities in taxes for business licenses and hotel rooms, for example, and nothing for car rentals, unlike some other jurisdictions. Food for thought.
But a much larger issue came up for the task force. In order for many of our communities to accept more infill residential development and higher densities, we're going to have to dramatically upgrade our urban infrastructure-better streets and sidewalks and more parks to accommodate the increased population. The task force says the cost of needed infrastructure improvements-not including transportation matters, which are funded on a regional basis-is roughly $6.7 billion. Affordable housing or no affordable housing, we've got issues, and sooner or later, we're going to be asked to pony up.
One way to start, the task force says, is for the City Council to put a $1 billion bond on the ballot, financed by a parcel tax. That's $11 per piece of property every month, $132 every year, to ready mostly our inner-city neighborhoods for more affordable housing.
Many people, including City Councilmember Toni Atkins, the main force behind affordable housing, have already said the bond measure is probably "dead on arrival." Proponents say such a bond measure will fly if it's sold to the public with some real leadership, but it's tough when your main advocate isn't even squarely under your tent.
Big problems. Interesting ideas. Let's start talking.