County polls residents on affordable housing

The county of San Diego held a June 29 public outreach meeting on inclusionary housing with several polls along with opportunities for attendees to provide comments directly to facilitators. After an hour, public input made clear: county residents want more affordable housing in accessible locations.

Contracted planning and development firm AECOM representative Jessica Sisco described the virtual meeting as “an opportunity to hear how you want inclusionary housing applied in your community” to roughly 40 attendees. There are over 3 million residents across the county.

“The basic structure of an inclusionary housing program typically takes into account where affordable housing is needed,” Sisco said, as well as what projects should be worked on and what constitutes affordability.

First, she asked attendees to identify which neighborhoods should be considered such as those near county villages like Fallbrook where a higher intensity of land use has been established, versus those which are considered “high opportunity areas” such as Otay or Alpine with high quality schools. Qualifying data on how communities were ranked as higher or lower quality was not provided.

A poll of multiple options revealed 50% of attendees wanted affordable housing that answers to multiple factors: higher land use, within a half-mile proximity to public transit and a quarter mile proximity to bike routes, and close to jobs and amenities.

Over 30% of attendees said they want housing in high opportunity areas and about 40% said they want affordable housing throughout the entire county.

Sisco also asked attendees to parse which income levels should be targeted, assuming a family includes two adults and two kids. While 65% of attendees said families in the ‘very low’ income bracket of $40-65,000 annually should be considered and 52% said families in the ‘low’ income bracket who earn $20-40,000 annually should be considered for affordable housing, only 35% of attendees said families in the ‘extremely low’ income bracket who make less than $20,000 annually should be targeted in planning.

Additionally, 45% said families in the ‘moderate’ range of $65-110,000 should be considered and 19% said families who earn an ‘above moderate’ income of $100-130,000 annually should also be considered.

Other polls questioned how many affordable units should be included with each new housing development.

“It may not be economically feasible for some projects to provide affordable housing,” Sisco said, such as in a new project where just two or three units are being built.

Although 30% of attendees said any development with more than ten units should have to include some which are deemed ‘affordable’ for residents, 17% of attendees said all developments should have to include some affordable units while 3% said no development should have to include affordable units.

Related data was also gathered: what percentage of affordable units should be constructed regardless of development size. For example, a 10% requirement across the board would reserve 100 units in a 1,000-unit development as ‘affordable’ housing while that same 10% requirement would mean building one affordable home in a ten-unit development would meet that same standard.

Although 45% of attendees said 20% of the homes in every development should be set aside as affordable housing, just 29% of attendees said 15% of the homes in every development should fall within affordable housing pricing.

“Incentives and concessions can offset the costs of providing affordable housing,” Sisco said, such as “reducing requirements like setbacks or open space standards, or the number of units on a property”.

Future affordable housing projects approved by the county will likely utilize some incentives and concessions, she said, a way to ensure developers are able to meet affordable housing needs while still turning a profit and completing projects in a timely manner.

“Which incentives do you feel are best suited to increasing the affordable housing supply in the
unincorporated community?” Sisco asked.

Over 70% of attendees said they felt expedited permit processing was the best incentive to entice developers into building more affordable homes, 50% said direct financial subsidies and tax exemptions would help, and 44% said increased density would be the greatest incentive to build. Additionally, 33% said reduced parking requirements would incentivize developers and 28% said reduced development standards would help.

Sisco also asked whether attendees want to avoid certain incentives and 45% said they would prefer to avoid reduced parking requirements while 39% said development standards should not be waived. Almost 30% said they do not want to see development fees reduced while 29% said they would not like to see developers receive direct financial subsidies. Additionally, 19% said they do not want to see density increased for the sake of affordability.

There was no way to determine whether participants have a background in development or construction.

Alternative methods of compliance also were discussed such as in-lieu fees and land dedication, essentially ways for developers to legally circumvent building affordable housing. For example, Sisco said, developers can donate land to the county or a non-profit organization instead of constructing affordable units.

Ostensibly, that land would be used for affordable housing at a later date.

In a poll, 46% of attendees said alternative methods of compliance should be available to developers who cannot accommodate affordable housing onside due to physical constraints such as sewer location or road access while 54% said those options should be open to all developers.

Accessory dwelling units, basically tiny homes, could also be built on land at a lower cost to provide affordable housing, Sisco said, an option 56% of attendees said they would support.

In another poll, 68% of attendees said they approve of land dedication in place of building affordable housing and 53% said they approve of in-lieu fees where developers can pay the county rather than building affordable homes.

The inclusionary housing project dates back to stakeholder interviews which were completed in September 2020 and has included two previous public workshops held in December 2020 and three focus group meetings. A public review of a draft inclusionary housing ordinance is scheduled to happen this fall along with a final virtual public workshop.

County residents can provide feedback to Camila Easland at or by calling (858) 505-6677.