For several years, housing permitting and construction has been a topic of discussion among elected officials, community leaders, government and private agencies, and the general public. The lack of affordable housing throughout the region has led to concerns about the ability for low-income and young people to live in San Diego. Average rents and housing costs are well above the standard 30% of household incomes, causing a strain on residents and their families. Per the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the cost of housing has affected San Diego’s economy and ability to attract and retain talent. The need for more housing development is apparent, and planners are doing their part to address this problem.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) creates and maintains a tremendous quantity of data about the San Diego region. As part of this effort, SANDAG collected the Annual Housing Progress Reports prepared by the 18 cities in the region and the County of San Diego.  The annual reports identify the number of housing units permitted by the jurisdictions in a calendar year based on their level of affordability (very-low, low, moderate, and above-moderate). Using the information in the reports, SANDAG has prepared the 2017 Regional Housing Progress Report outlining exactly how many housing units have been permitted by local jurisdictions and the region’s progress on its Regional Housing Needs Assessment Plan (RHNA Plan).

In 2011, after extensive collaboration with the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the region’s local jurisdictions, and interested stakeholders, SANDAG adopted the RHNA Plan.  To house the population increase expected to occur from 2010 to 2021 (also known as the RHNA cycle), the RHNA Plan determined 161,980 housing units would need to be constructed throughout the region during the 11-year RHNA cycle.  Of those units, 64,150 would need to be affordable to very-low and low income households. The RHNA Plan assigned each city in the region and the County of San Diego a specific share of the units in each income category. The 2017 Regional Housing Progress Report includes dashboards showing each city and the County’s housing units permitted during the RHNA Cycle.

So, how many units have been permitted and how close is the region to meeting it’s housing needs? Since 2010, a total of 50,714 units have been permitted in the region, including 6,614 housing units available for very-low and low income households. In the first seven years of the 11-year RHNA cycle, the region has permitted only 31.3% of the housing units needed to meet the growing population demand, with just 10.3% of the affordable housing permitted during that same time.  In total, the region would need to permit 111,266 housing units, including 57,536 affordable units, over the next four years to fully meet the needs of the population.  The region will not have a full accounting of the amounts reached in each category until the conclusion of the RHNA cycle in 2020.

Although the region has a long way to go to fully meet the RHNA Plan goals, several factors have slowed housing permitting.  The economic recession caused the high level of construction seen in early 2000s to dramatically drop. According to the California Housing Partnership Corporation, funding for housing construction in San Diego County decreased by 69% over the past eight years. Additionally, difficult processes to obtain housing construction approvals have kept the region from reaching its goals.

The good news, though, is that progress has been made to address each problem. As the economy improved, the number of housing unit permits have increased.  25,617 units were permitted in the region from 2014-2016, nearly doubling the amount permitted between 2008-2010. Also, 2016 had the highest number of housing units permitted since 2005. The State of California and SANDAG are funding grant programs to construct housing and infrastructure improvements. Recent state legislation has looked for ways to increase and permanently fund affordable housing construction.  Cities are taking the lead to streamline permitting processes for secondary units and affordable housing near transit (for an example, see the City of San Diego’s “Housing SD” Plan).  In future updates to the 2017 Regional Housing Progress Report, SANDAG plans to compile a list of actions taken by local jurisdictions to promote housing development.

In conclusion, the 2017 Regional Housing Progress Report shows the magnitude of the housing issues facing the San Diego region.  A draft version of the report will be discussed at upcoming SANDAG Regional Planning Committee and Technical Working Groups before a final version is approved by the SANDAG Board of Directors.  Planners in the public and private sector have an opportunity review the draft document and submit comments to SANDAG.  In 2018, SANDAG will begin working on the next RHNA Plan and updating San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan. To increase housing in the region while accomplishing other goals, SANDAG will work with numerous stakeholders to determine where housing should be located. The input of professional planners and members of the public will help SANDAG and local jurisdictions continue to make progress on housing the next generation of San Diegans.


This article was authored by Seth Litchney, Senior Regional Planner, SANDAG