Construction workers continue into December with the build for the Blue Sky Apartments on 8th Avenue and
B Street in downtown San Diego — Nelvin C. Cepeda
In the very near future, many us could commute each day from downtown San Diego to Poway.
That’s according to a new report paid for by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce that highlights the disproportionate construction of new homes and apartments in the city of San Diego compared to the rest of the county.
From 1996 to 2015, San Diego built 41 percent of new housing units whereas cities that were adding a lot of new jobs, like Poway, contributed less than 1 percent to the housing stock.
“You’re going to have to be traveling pretty far for housing,” said London Group Realty Partners principal Nathan Moeder, whose firm authored the report.
The study predicts an economic crisis with a lack of housing that will lead to even higher housing costs and employers having difficulty recruiting workers. Additional issues could be baby boomers who own homes having difficulty finding homes to downsize to, and millennials moving out of the area to find single-family homes.
North County is the iceberg in the Titanic-level scenario presented in the study.
Northern parts of the city and North County are predicted to add more jobs than housing units over the next 30 years, about two new jobs for every housing unit.
Meanwhile, central San Diego —including all the new apartment complexes downtown — will add roughly what it needs during the same time period, about one unit for every new job.
The study flips the script on the traditional housing pattern of people working in the city and commuting from the suburbs.
Part of the reason for the imbalance is San Diego is already mostly built out. So, the city is building much more multifamily housing that can accommodate more people.
The county’s regions all experienced some housing growth from 2000 to 2010, but the gap between jobs added and new units varied greatly.
In central San Diego (downtown, North Park, Coronado), housing was added at a rate of 8 percent while new decreased by 6 percent. In western North County (Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas), housing increased at a rate of 16 percent while new jobs grew by 11 percent.
Southern suburbs (Chula Vista, San Ysidro) had the closest ratio, with housing growing at a rate of 25 percent while new jobs grew by 22 percent.
The southern areas were considered by the report to be in a better position than the north because they have more affordable options to the east. However, much of North County is surrounded by only expensive areas.
Single-family homes vs. multifamily
The London Group’s study criticized community plans that favor multifamily units over single-family for the foreseeable future. It reasoned the traditional move to the suburbs by past generations will not be afforded to their children.
Translation: If you’re a local millennial dreaming of moving out of the city to start a family and live in house, forget it. Chances are you and your children will be living in an apartment or condo complex.
Moeder said any plans that assume millennials don’t want to raise children in the suburbs, like every generation that came before, could have dire consequences.
“It means that no one is going to want that inventory” if plans are wrong, Moeder said. “(Millennials) will want single-family homes. So, people will leave the region to work somewhere else. And what it means is single-family homes will become even more expensive and unaffordable.”
Marney Cox, SANDAG special projects director, said it was too soon to say if millennials will want to move to the suburbs.
“We actually don’t know yet” what millennials want, he said. “There does seem to be a desire on the part of the millennials to live in slightly more dense areas with lots of urban activities. They seem to look for amenities that are different than the post-World War II baby boom population.”
Cox said millennials are more environmentally-sensitive than past generations and may not want to live in a single-family house because it takes away from open space, adds to greenhouse gas emissions and encroaches on protected habitat for plants and animals.
Moeder said that if Cox’s assessment is wrong, along with many city and state planners, it could actually be much worse for the environment because millennials will be driving long distances to and from work to get to their single-family house.
However, Cox said SANDAG’s projections are based on what county and state officials are actually approving and it seems unlikely they will start moving away from denser development — especially with increasing pressure from environmentalists to not approve single-family home projects.
“We actually need to react to the public sector’s plans, not the private sector’s wishes,” Cox said.
Predictably, the report suggests communities revist general plans to accommodate actual housing demand (i.e. single-family housing). It also pushes community leaders to educate the public about housing issues and for lawmakers to reform environmental laws to speed up, and allow, more building.
Despite constant battles for land, there may be more opportunities opening up in unincorporated areas of San Diego County. The London Group identified 47,509 acres of farmland considered inferior by the state Department of Conservation that could be used for housing.
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