San Diego Pledges to Keep 22,000 Apartments Affordable with New Law

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Photo by Yonas Bekele on Unsplash

San Diego, Calf., marked a significant milestone in addressing its housing crisis as a key City Council committee endorsed a proposed law aimed at safeguarding the city’s 22,000 apartments under government rent restrictions. The proposed law, which would require owners of such apartment buildings to notify the city, tenant groups, and developers of low-income housing before selling, represents a pioneering effort to prevent the destruction of vital affordable housing units.

San Diego’s approach sets it apart as one of the first cities to consider such legislation in Southern California. The proposed law, inspired by similar measures in San Francisco and Berkeley, aims to protect low-income housing in the city from being replaced by market-rate housing when the rent restrictions expire in the coming years, according to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

City officials argued that preserving existing affordable housing is just as crucial as incentivizing new construction in combating the local housing crisis. Councilmember Stephen Whitburn emphasized in the report the importance of retaining existing affordable units and preventing a loss while simultaneously adding new ones.

Modeled after legislation in other cities, the proposed law goes a step further by granting both a right of first offer and a right of first refusal to qualified groups to keep the apartments rent-restricted indefinitely, thus ensuring the long-term preservation of these vital housing units.

Councilmember Vivian Moreno highlighted the urgency of enacting such legislation, with 6,657 apartments and other housing units facing rent restriction expirations by 2033, and how this law provides a vital framework to protect these units.

While some critics argue that the city should also include non-subsidized, naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) in the legislation, city officials contend that laws concerning NOAH apartments will come later due to their complexity and the time required for crafting such regulations.

To develop the proposed law, city officials held ten joint meetings with housing developers and housing-focused groups between July and October.

The region’s largest labor organization commended the proposed law but expressed disappointment at the city’s previous inaction in tracking units when their covenants expired. The proposed legislation represents a positive step forward in addressing this issue.

Supporters of the law express hope that the city will take even more aggressive measures in housing preservation. While acknowledging the law’s limitations, AJ Estrada of the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council called it “a wonderful place to start,” according to the report.

This proposed law is a crucial component of the housing preservation action plan adopted by the council in the fall of 2020. Council members have also requested funding for a housing preservation fund in next year’s budget, which, with state matching funds, would support efforts such as the acquisition and rehabilitation of vulnerable or rent-restricted properties.

Critics argue that the proposed law could be tougher, citing its exemption for apartment complexes with fewer than five units and certain landlord exemptions. City officials assure that these exemptions will be carefully crafted to prevent abuse.

Stephen Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, sees the proposed law as a balanced approach that protects the availability of affordable housing while respecting property owners’ rights.

Notably, San Diego’s proposed law goes beyond the California Preservation Notice Law, a state law that only requires owners of rent-restricted units to notify local agencies when the time left on the rent restrictions reaches three years, without requiring notifications when a property is put up for sale.

San Diego’s attempt through this law to preserving its affordable housing stock is a important step in addressing the housing crisis, perhaps setting an example for other cities to follow. While challenges remain, the proposed law demonstrates the city’s intention to ensure that affordable housing remains an important topic for the industry at large.