San Diego County is moving forward on home construction, but most is higher-end housing

Benson Place affordable housing project.
Construction crews work on the completion of Father Joe’s Villages 82 unit affordable housing project called Benson Place on June 23, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County is on track to deliver half the new housing that the state has called for adding to unincorporated areas by 2029 — but most of that is for middle- and higher-income people, county planners told the Board of Supervisors in a progress report Wednesday, March 15.

New plans to build more affordable housing on surplus county land would add more units dedicated for people with low and very low incomes, officials said, moving the county closer to its goal of providing homes for residents of all income levels.

According to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, a state formula for estimating how many housing units are required to meet regional demand, San Diego County must add 6,700 homes to its unincorporated areas by 2029. The county government isn’t required to build those homes itself but must set policies that accommodate them, said Rami Talleh, the county’s deputy planning director.

By the end of last year, the county had already issued building permits for 3,337 new housing units, or about half that total goal, said Lynnette Tessitore, chief of long range planning.

Those included 1,189 homes in the above-moderate-income category and 802 in the moderate-income range, which meant that unincorporated areas had already added two-thirds of the middle and higher-income homes needed by 2029.

New housing in the unincorporated county also included 526 low-income housing units, or about half of what is needed in that category. But only 190 very low-income housing units had been approved or built — just 10 percent of the estimated demand.

To encourage construction of low- and very-low income housing, Tessitore said the county is making it easier to build accessory dwelling units, also known as granny flats, guest houses or backyard cottages. The county has waived fees for those units, provided pre-made floor plans and adjusted zoning ordinances to allow the homes to be built on lots with single-family homes.

It has also dedicated surplus county-owned land to build rent-restricted housing and awarded sites to developers who will build more than 1,100 units of low- and very-low income housing.

Last year the county and Metropolitan Transit Service announced plans to use more than 13 acres of land deemed underutilized for new affordable rental housing.