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Concerns of “community character” are a veil – a thin veil

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The houses overlook the San Elijo Lagoon and Cardiff by the Sea Beach. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The recent effort in San Diego to prevent homeowners from being able to build additional Grandma’s apartments – one of the few successful steps we’ve taken to address the city’s severe housing shortage – is raising the bar. an issue that should receive more honest attention. In the effort to protect “community character”, why do we selectively protect the character of only certain communities, and precisely what is the nature of the “character” that we choose to preserve?

Like cities across California, San Diego hasn’t built enough housing. Each year, the city tragically fails to approve the 12,000 housing permits needed to keep up with population growth. San Diego residents who are renters should do 2.8 times the local minimum wage to pay the median rent, and more than 70 percent even our modest income households cannot afford to buy a home. Half of residential neighborhoods in San Diego only allow the construction of single-family homes.

California’s love affair with single-family zoning severely restricts housing, and this in a way that perpetuates historic racial inequity. Many neighborhoods in San Diego as we know them are largely the product of intentional segregation.

There is a clear and direct line between the practice of redlining in the last century – the policies that denied mortgages to black families and created restrictive covenants making it illegal to sell houses to people of color – and the preservation of single-family zoning today. . When such blatant discrimination was overturned by the courts, cities and counties in California, including San Diego, restricted construction of multi-family dwellings to achieve the same end goal.

Single-family zoning maintains the legacy of racist housing policy by keeping most high-potential neighborhoods inaccessible to many families. It directly prevents wealth creation through home ownership and upward mobility by ensuring that housing in traditionally white neighborhoods remains both limited and expensive.

Neighborhood associations, HOAs, “slow growing” groups and others behind the most recent efforts to ostensibly protect “community character” – like those in Kensington, Talmadge, and El Cerrito – have something to do with it. obvious in common. These are the same communities that used redlining to exclude families of color decades ago. Behind the concern to maintain the “community character” hides a very thin veil.

Unless we (literally) start at ground level with zoning reform efforts, attempts to increase housing production will continue to be blocked by those unwilling to allow smaller and therefore less housing. dear ones in their neighborhoods. The continued suppression of housing production and the continued segregation of San Diego communities will remain the status quo. San Diego must allow more people to live in higher opportunity neighborhoods with more community benefits like parks, public transport and good schools. Building more housing in these high potential communities is not correct a solution to the housing shortage is also a solution to an equity crisis.

Pro Senate Speaker Tem Toni Atkins has shown leadership on this front by introducing SB 9. This bill will allow homeowners to divide their lots or build duplexes, creating more naturally affordable housing and new opportunities. for affordable home ownership. Allowing homeowners to choose to build another unit or allow new homes to be built as duplexes could free up capacity for nearly 800,000 new homes throughout the state.

SB 9 will make housing less expensive while incorporating robust anti-displacement protections for tenants. This includes preventing landlords from dividing lots or disrupting homes that have been occupied by tenants for the past three years and prohibiting the disruption of existing affordable housing, rent-controlled housing, or newly rented housing. to a tenant.

And for those who are truly concerned with architectural character, the SB 9 preserves local control and neighborhood look and feel by ensuring compliance with local design standards, severely limiting modification or demolition of existing structures, by requiring that the lot splits create two similarly sized plots that are at least 1,200 square feet, and allow local governments to limit additional accessory housing units on those plots.

San Diego lack of new undeveloped land for housing, the lowest in the country for the available land space. Vertical construction is essential, but not sufficient. The only way our city can build enough housing to meet the needs of our diverse community, reduce homelessness and increase homeownership is to add smaller, affordable homes. to existing neighborhoods.

The adoption of SB 9 is necessary if we are to truly meet the housing goals that our region and its residents need now.

Al Abdallah is the COO of the San Diego County Urban League.

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