Proposed $900-million San Diego housing bond takes key step forward

The Talmadge Gateway project is an example of the kind of subsidized housing that a proposed bond in San Diego could help fund.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A San Diego committee took a preliminary step this week toward placing a $900-million housing bond on the November 2020 ballot.

The City Council’s rules committee voted 3 to 2 to declare that San Diego is facing a severe shortage of affordable housing that requires such a bond, which would be funded by a property tax surcharge within the city.

Wednesday’s vote was a necessary legal step toward placing the bond measure before voters. It allows supporters to continue crafting the measure before asking the full council next June to officially put it on the November 2020 ballot.

A 6-3 council supermajority would be required in June, because the measure is a tax increase requiring approval by two-thirds of city voters.


Supporters said the bond measure would play a key role in solving San Diego’s homelessness crisis.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to end homelessness unless we successfully house people,” Councilman Chris Ward said.

The measure was designed to help San Diego secure a greater share of state money devoted to homelessness and affordable housing by providing local matching funds typically required for such assistance.

Supporters say evidence the bond is necessary includes city estimates that San Diego needs more than 5,400 additional housing units geared for homeless people.


Councilman Mark Kersey, who voted no along with Councilman Chris Cate, said the subsidized housing units the bond would pay for are too expensive for him to be comfortable asking voters to pay higher property taxes.

He said the average cost for a subsidized unit is typically higher than $400,000.

“You’re now asking San Diegans to subsidize the construction of units that are nicer and more expensive than the ones they themselves live in,” he said. “I think this is going to be a tough sell.”

The housing bond, initially proposed in January 2018 by the San Diego Housing Federation, had been planned for the November 2018 election. But supporters decided to delay the measure until 2020.


Some critics say the bond won’t be necessary if voters approve a proposed hotel tax increase on the March 2020 ballot that would provide $1.8 billion for homelessness programs.

But supporters of the bond say the measures should be viewed as complementary.

The bond would raise taxes on San Diego property owners by an average of $72 per year to pay for 7,500 subsidized apartments for chronically homeless, veterans, senior citizens, the disabled and low-income families.

Stephen Russell, executive director of the Housing Federation, emphasized that property taxes would not immediately increase by nearly that much because the city would sell the bonds in waves over several years.


Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.