How badly needed affordable housing in San Diego benefits community health

150 150 Nadine Ono

Metro Villas affordable housing complex in San Diego (Photo Credit: City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency)

Focusing on how to pay for the high cost of housing is stressful for many middle- to low-income earners, so much so, that they have little time to focus on other aspects of their lives. Cutting the stress from worrying about how to pay the rent allows residents to pay more attention to their jobs, their families, and their future.

In San Diego County, the lack of affordable housing has put many people in a bind where they are spending more than half their income on rent and/or living in overcrowded situations. In fact, according to a recent report issued by the California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC), adjusting for housing costs and other costs of living, more than one-fifth of the County’s population lives in poverty. And the County would need 142,564 more affordable housing units to accommodate the needs of extremely low- and very low-income earners.

Barbara Nevarez knows firsthand how living in affordable housing can change the direction of a family. The single mother of three moved into the Metro Villas complex, an affordable housing complex in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego developed by San Diego Interfaith Housing Foundation more than a decade ago. Speaking through an interpreter, she recalled the relief she felt when her family moved into the three-bedroom apartment, saying “I didn’t have to focus on housing, so I could focus on work.”

Since living in Metro Villas, Nevarez said her kids have been able to grow up in a diverse and secure community. “We’re in a safe environment, so we can think about other possibilities,” said Nevarez.

Two of her children are now in college and the youngest is in high school. Nevarez herself has taken advantage of the social services offered at Metro Villas offered through the City Heights Community Development Corporation, becoming an advocate for affordable housing.

“We’ve seen a lot of conversations about housing’s role in health, having affordable homes in communities where kids can go play outside and it’s safe outside so they can be active and healthy,” said Laura Nunn, policy director of the San Diego Housing Federation, which partnered with CHPC on the report.

Nevarez and her Metro Villas neighbors are lucky that the complex was built with assistance from the San Diego Redevelopment Agency before it was dissolved. The absence of funding from redevelopment, combined with federal sequestration caps, has hit San Diego hard. In the last five years, the region has lost $139 million for affordable housing development.

To remedy the lack of funding, the CHPC report makes several recommendations which include adopting or updating inclusionary zone ordinances, adopting affordable housing requirements, partnering with local municipalities to develop affordable housing on public land and including affordable housing as part of any local or regional funding initiative.

Nunn said the gap could be closed but, “It’s just a question of whether we’ll have the leadership locally to help include affordable housing, especially when we’re looking at funding for infrastructure improvements. We really need to start seeing affordable housing as part of that infrastructure.”

Affordable housing will be one of the key issues discussed when business and civic leaders gather at the California Economic Summit in Ontario on November 12-13, co-presented by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network. One of the important questions to be raised is to figure out how to build a large number of affordable housing units in the next ten years for middle- and low-income Californians.

Providing stable housing is one way to help pull people out of poverty and allow them to provide a better life for their children. Nevarez summed it up saying, “It’s a true blessing to be part of a community, teaching kids to keep off the streets and seeing a difference.” 


Nadine Ono

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