San Diego housing program shows model for California cities

SAN DIEGO — Albert Zuniga will never take the little things like unlocking his door and making his bed for granted.

“I try to personalize it and do that. It’s my home,” Zuniga said. “This is my home, and I’m taking this opportunity.”


What do you want to know

  • San Diego’s Affordable Homes Bonus Program allows developers to build more homes if they agree to dedicate a portion of a new affordable multi-family project
  • A report found that 44% of all eligible homes in 2020 were in projects that used AHBP
  • Since the implementation of the AHBP in 2016, the AHBP has been used in projects creating 6,481 homes
  • San Diego’s AHBP became the basis for AB2345, which extended the enhanced bonus statewide

Zuniga lived on the streets for years, battling addiction and getting into trouble. After years of struggle, he finally accepted help and now has his own studio in Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa, overlooking San Diego’s East Village neighborhood.

“The first day I walked in, I cried,” he said. “I never thought I would have this.”

The average apartment rent in San Diego is $2,700, but Zuniga pays just under $700.

His building is one of the newest affordable housing developments of Father Joe’s Villages, an organization that works to end homelessness.

Deacon Jim Vargas said they were able to make every apartment affordable through San Diego’s Affordable Homes Bonus Program, a program that incentivizes developers to increase housing density, allowing them to build more of units in exchange for setting aside a percentage of the units as affordable housing.

“The building itself has five different gardens. Everything is in bloom, I love it,” Vargas said. “Building a sense of community is extremely important. We want people to feel like this is their home, that they can share it and that they can enjoy it with their families, with their friends.

Vargas noted that most of the 407 units here are studios, with one or two bedrooms. Rent is a sliding scale based on a person’s income.

“My hope and prayer is that other, other developers will look at this as a model and say hey you know what, let’s do something similar, we need much more affordable housing in general,” Vargas said.

Housing experts have said that the rising cost of buying or renting a home is largely due to the lack of housing to accommodate the growing population.

Colin Parent of Circulate San Diego recently published a report highlighting the success of the Affordable Homes Bonus Program. Since its implementation in 2016, it has been used in projects creating more than 6,000 homes. In 2020, it was expanded statewide and enacted for all of California.

“The reality is that we need more affordable housing all over San Diego,” Parent said. “We have far too little housing for the number of people who need it and, in particular, for the most disadvantaged people who have the most difficulty finding housing. We especially need affordable permanent housing to make sure they have a safe place to sleep and live their lives.

Parent calls it a Costco effect: you get a little extra with the same amount of money.

“We really have a deficit of both market-priced housing and affordable housing, and the great thing about the affordable housing bonus program is that it encourages both more,” Parent said. .

Zuniga said he has so much more peace in his life now and is making the most of his second chance.

“It’s my little piece of heaven on earth, you know.”

Bernard P. Love