Committee backs proposals encouraging new home construction in city

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee Monday advanced regulation proposals intended to encourage middle-income housing construction.

Middle income is defined in the proposed regulation as any household with income between 120 and 150 percent of the area median income.

The proposals, part of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Housing SD plan, would provide density bonuses, incentives and waivers to developers who reserve at least 10 percent of units for middle-income housing. Density bonuses, often associated with affordable housing construction, allow developers to build more square footage than existing zoning allows.

To secure the proposed middle-income incentives, developers would also have to build at least partially within “transit priority areas” within a half-mile of a major transit stop, a plan intended to encourage public transit use, as well as lessen reliance on cars and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Over the past decade, housing development hasn’t kept up with job or population growth, according to a city report which says San Diego County median home prices exceed $500,000 and an average home rental exceeds $1,800 per month.

Proposed regulations are intended to fill the middle-income housing gap and subsequently reduce pressure on prices for other types of housing.

The committee advanced the regulation proposals to the full council with no recommendation for or against approval. The motion included recommendations for city staff to consider several provisions before the council hears the item.

Several committee members requested removing the middle-income definition’s lower threshold — 120 percent of an area’s median income — from the regulations in order to encourage a more balanced range of housing opportunities within communities.

“I would like communities in other areas, particularly in wealthier communities, to make sure we’re allowing for those mixed-income types of developments,” committee member David Alvarez said.

City Planning Director Mike Hansen said staff are “on board” with removing the floor, but they need to vet language before presenting to the council.

“There are some complexities on how that could relate to the rest of the code and the rest of the regulations, and we would like to come back with a regulation on how we can best do that,” he said.

Alvarez also requested that parking requirements within the proposed regulations are loosened.

As they stand, proposed regulations call for one on-site parking spot per one-bedroom or studio unit, two spots for two-to-three bedroom units and “two and one-half” spots for four-or-more bedroom units.

Alvarez said the requirements — especially for studios — unnecessarily hamper development.

“We’re incentivizing this development because we believe, I think, that transit will be of a higher use by the tenants who will live here, therefore we should not be building parking so that they all have one or two spaces. That’s not the intent,” he said.

Lastly, committee member Georgette Gomez requested that the regulations include an existing affordable housing density bonus provision that requires new developments replace every affordable unit displaced by the demolition of an older structure.

“In order to get my support, it has to be part of it,” she said.