How to Build Momentum on Housing Policies

Housing, Water, Jobs on Economic Summit Agenda

Innovative Trends in Housing Needed to Lower Costs

San Diego Mayor Pushing One of State’s Most Aggressive Packages for Addressing Housing Crisis

By Justin Ewers


Mary Lydon, executive director of Housing You Matters speaks at news conference Wednesday (Photo Credit: Housing You Matters)

San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled one of the most aggressive–and comprehensive–approaches in the state for tackling his city’s growing housing affordability crisis on Wednesday, following up on a pledge earlier this year to address rising prices by accelerating housing approvals and expanding supply.

“The state’s housing shortage and the unaffordable housing market it spawned has left the dream of homeownership out of reach for the majority of San Diegans,” Mayor Faulconer said in a press conference today. “The only way to change that is to build more housing that people can actually afford. Hardworking folks who love San Diego and want to live in San Diego should not be priced out of San Diego.”

Faulconer’s housing package includes a dozen different proposals for bringing building costs down–and getting more homes built more quickly. Many of these ideas first emerged in a 2015 San Diego Housing Commission study and have been working their way through the City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee this spring.

The CA Economic Summit wrote about the effort this spring, highlighting the city’s unique focus on workforce housing needs, the breadth of the policy concepts under consideration, and the diversity of the coalition rallying behind the need for more housing:

Faulconer’s call to arms may not sound that dissimilar from the rhetoric emerging from other parts of the state, as rising prices make living in California increasingly unaffordable. But the San Diego mayor’s framing of the problem—and the solutions the city is developing with a unique coalition of business associations, labor groups, environmentalists, and builders—are fundamentally different.

The mayor’s proposals, which Faulconer said he hoped to see implemented over the next year, include specific code amendments to streamline the development review process, provide greater incentives to builders to develop denser projects with below-market units, and change municipal rules to make it easier for existing homeowners to build second dwellings on their property. The mayor has also prioritized increasing funding for low-income housing and revising parking standards to lower development costs.

Among the mayor’s most far-reaching ideas is a provision to allow projects to take advantage of existing CEQA streamlining processes in infill areas. The package also includes plans to reduce the impact of developer fees, calling for a revised methodology based on square footage, instead of the number of units in each proposed development.

Perhaps most importantly, the mayor has also asked the city to begin providing an annual report on the city’s housing inventory. “What gets measured gets managed,” as a fact sheet released by the mayor’s office puts it. “Currently, the City of San Diego does not do a comprehensive report of its housing inventory and greater housing outlook.” In his housing plan, the mayor calls for a report of existing inventory, the number of units approved, as well as vacancy rates and other metrics—all beginning this summer.

Faulconer’s actions, many of them derived from years of work by other local leaders, are drawing praise from across the broad coalition that has emerged in the last few years to push for solutions to the city’s housing crisis.

“The lack of middle-class housing is a major consideration for businesses and young talent looking to relocate to San Diego,” Kris Michell, president & CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. “The Mayor’s proposal to slash permitting times for entry-level housing, affordable to young millennials and working families, is critical to attracting talent and building a stronger economy.”

While selling the mayor’s proposals across the sometimes growth-wary region remains a political challenge, Mary Lydon, executive director of the Housing You Matters coalition, believes the foundation has been laid locally to achieve something few other big cities in California have accomplished: Moving ahead with a major new push to increase housing supplies.

“The growing alignment and cooperation around our housing affordability crisis is a major accomplishment in and of itself,” says Lydon. “Now that so many are on the same page we can work together to find the solutions.”

Micro, tiny, granny: housing shortfall solution — The Daily Transcript

Micro, tiny, granny: housing shortfall solution

Mary Lydon is founder of Lydon Associates, a strategic communications consulting firm specializing in land use. Mike Stepner is a professor at New School of Architects.

housing-shortfallMore affordable housing is on the nation’s mind. A growing issue is, “Cities are seemly becoming the centers for opportunities for those who already have it but we need strivers to flourish,” stated Mark Gimein of the New Yorker. The upcycle we are in has brought cities great growth and urban amenities. These amenity-rich cities have become very desirable for the world’s richest citizens. Cities are increasingly pleasant places to live for those who can afford it, so much so that Bloomberg’s Justin Fox calls big-city living a “luxury good.”

The White House released a Housing Development Toolkit in September. This reiterates what states and major cities across the country have been trying to problem solve for many years to little avail. Now that we are all in alignment we see that the solutions are super complex. The way forward, to mitigate San Diego becoming a “luxury good,” is a multifaceted solution where builders, designers, planners, policy makers, nonprofit organizations and community members will need to diligently work together. There are potential housing solutions that may offer relief to certain demographics sectors like single millennials and boomers. Smaller dwelling units like micro apartment units (300-500 square feet), tiny homes, granny flats (accessory dwelling units) and container homes are trending. These smaller units can bring the price of owning or renting down by as much as 30 percent but there is not enough supply to fill the demand. This is due to barriers in development like high parking requirements and expensive water and sewer hookup fees.

Last week, the governor signed legislation from Assemblyman Richard Bloom and Sen. Bob Wieckowski that will force cities to permit “backyard homes,” or separate dwellings known as “granny flats,” eliminate cities’ ability to require additional parking spaces for such units, and limit fees for attaching the units to local water and sewer systems. This bill could help alleviate some of the housing shortage in California and how it is executed at the local level will be key.

We can look to our past and to other cities for models to help us implement Accessory Dwelling Units. In 2006, the Vancouver, Canada, implemented the EcoDensity Initiative subtitled “How density, design, and land use will contribute to environmental sustainability, affordability and livability.” The program had three key provisions relating to housing: (1) Laneway [alley] housing – smaller scale detached housing that can be located where the rear-yard garage currently is; (2) secondary suites in apartments; and (3) mid-rise building on arterial streets. The key to enabling the innovative housing types in Vancouver was community support driven by design quality and provision of amenities. These housing strategies look familiar to those that are following current micro unit discussions and to those who have some knowledge of our development history. To meet housing shortages during World War II and the Korean conflict, our region’s cities encouraged and gave priority to the construction of Accessory Units. These were built in all the neighborhoods that were in existence at the time from La Jolla to Mission Hills. Most of these are still in use providing affordability for the homeowner with rent to offset the mortgage.

We are currently engaged in discussions about higher densities and mixed use along the arterials and we are looking at better ways to allow small lot development in single family zones. Examples of this can be found in some of our more recent master planned communities. In looking at smaller lots and attempting to overcome objections to a variety of house sizes in a neighborhood and the subsequent impact on property values we can look to the models San Diego pioneered almost 100 years ago. In
neighborhoods from Mission Hills to La Mesa you can find blocks with lots of 25 x 100 feet mixed in with the standard size city of San Diego lot of 50 x 100 feet. You also find example of small lots and large lots on the same blocks. On the north south streets the lots are usually 50 x 100, but on the east-west streets the lots are 50 x 50 feet. This was done to allow for a mix of affordability due to house size. But from the curb the neighborhood houses looked the same. The city also zoned for higher density on the blocks near the major streets with streetcar lines. This resulted in small apartment buildings and the wonderful bungalow courts.

After World War II as the need for housing grew so did car ownership and the number of parking spaces became the determining design factor. In place of the bungalow court and the small apartment building came the six pack apartment building with fewer units and parking in the front. Because the design of those buildings still haunt the minds of our communities, objections to new multi-family homes remain. Fast forward to today where Jonathan Segal, FAIA is proposing to build an 8-story, 37-unit, 400-square foot/unit apartment building in Little Italy with no parking. This project is for the transit oriented, Uber riding, urban dweller. By taking parking out of the development process we are not only lowering the cost of new homes but we lower CO2 levels as well. A win-win-win solution.

When the Segal project is approved it will set a precedent across the city. We will take a quantum leap into the future of transit/pedestrian-centric communities that expands beyond a “luxury good” for only high income earners.

Download the article PDF

From a Sleepy Town to a Global City

Creating new economic, political engines

Can building design make you healthy?

The San Diego Union Tribune
By: Roger Showly

Posted: May 14, 2016

Urban Land Institute’s San Diego-Tijuana chapter named seven recipients in its first Healthy Places awards program plus one for a college student project. The County Waterfront Park won the grand prize. — ULI/San Diego-Tijuana

After decades of building car-centric suburbs, developers now realize they may be partly responsible for a rising tide of obesity.

Now, led by the Urban Land Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., they’re pivoting to “healthy places” where walkability, parks, community gardens and public transit can reverse the trends.

San Diego inaugurated this new era Wednesday with its first Healthy Places Awards program, sponsored by the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

The County Waterfront Park, the $50 million makeover of the parking lots at the County Administration Center, received the Healthy Place Crown Jewel Award because it celebrates recreation, urban living and a new use for an asphalt wasteland.

ULI local chairman Greg Shannon, whose Sedona Development is currently working on a 6,500-acre master-plan community in Tijuana, said the healthy places movement hit home to him when his wife gave him a Fitbit.

He racked up an admirable 10,000 daily steps on a Sunday. But at work the next day, activity dropped by two-thirds because he was glued to his desk.

“Probably over the last 60 years we’ve done a great job making things as convenient and efficient as we can, and we’ve fallen a little too much in love with technology,” he said. “But those things have unintended consequences. One is health has suffered with all the driving we do. We have greenhouse gases, car emissions, diabetes, asthma.”

Outgoing local ULI executive director Mary Lydon said the awards program revived an annual event that honored smart growth projects until 2010. The recession brought a historic drop in growth and no more awards.

“Moving from smart growth to healthy places is definitely a step in the right direction,” she said.

Hilltop gARTen — ULI/San Diego-Tijuana

ULI is an 80-year-old membership organization based in Washington, D.C., and is made up of about 38,000 developers, financiers, architects and other real estate industry leaders.

ULI senior fellow Ed McMahon said selling other members on making health a priority was tough at first.

“Developers are interested in something that they can do to make money,” he said.

But as case studies piled up, doubters came to realize that well-designed and located projects with walking paths, fitness centers, public transit and access to parks and healthy food stores paid off.

“Every single person in the world is interested in their health,” McMahon said. “What we found is health-promoting features in development are probably one of the best sells there is.”

He cited a CEOs for Cities report that found that every one point increase in the Walk Score index raises a property’s value anywhere from $500 to $3,000.

UCLA public health professor Dr. Richard Jackson, former director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Environmental Health and keynote speaker at the Wednesday awards event, offered another metric.

After one year of operation, riders on Charlotte, N.C.’s light-rail transit system lost an average of 6 pounds over those who drove to work.

“My students have a very different vision of the America they want to live in,” Jackson said, and it’s not the big, isolated suburban house surrounded by a picket fence. “They don’t want to be like their parents who drive an hour and a half to work each way, come home and stretch out and buy fast food because they have no time to cook dinner.”

Today’s obesity problem is the result of 70 years of suburbanization, the healthy places advocates say, and it can be reversed by better planning, more community gardens, less reliance on cars and revitalization of inner city neighborhoods where mixed incomes can live comfortably side by side.

Gregor Connors, 35, chairman of the ULI healthy places initiative, said he grew up in Poway and lives on the North County coast. He isn’t sold, at least not yet, on downtown living, especially for families with school-age children. But the graduate of the University of San Diego’s real estate master’s program does believe the merger of financial feasibility with good design will result in healthier living.

“It’s about great opportunity and better choices,” he said.