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Trolley Stations Could Be Next Stop for Affordable Apartments in San Diego

County, Transit Leaders Move To Open Properties for Future Multifamily Projects Amid Soaring Demand, Rising Prices

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News March 15, 2022 | 4:14 P.M.

County government and transit officials in San Diego have made nine government-owned properties available for apartment development as regional leaders look to address a chronic statewide shortage of affordable housing.

Regional officials will be taking developer concept proposals later this year, after designating three county-owned sites as surplus property available for future multifamily development and designating portions of six current and upcoming San Diego Metropolitan Transit System light-rail trolley station sites available for apartment construction.

“Access to affordable housing is at crisis levels right now,” Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “The County of San Diego and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System are actively working to bring more housing to the region.

“We have nine properties with more than 13 acres ready for an affordable apartment developer to build homes,” Fletcher said. “People need access to housing that is stable, safe and secure, and we’re ready to do our part.”

The county-owned sites include land that formerly housed the Northeast Family Resource Center at 5001 73rd St. in the College Area near San Diego State University; the property housing a county-owned office building at 6255 Mission Gorge Road in the city’s Grantville neighborhood; and the former North Inland Family Resource Center property at 600-620 E. Valley Parkway in Escondido.

The MTS properties to be made available are at trolley stations in downtown San Diego and the city’s southeastern Chollas View neighborhood; three stations in the East County cities of La Mesa and Lemon Grove; and at a planned $10 million MTS trolley station in San Diego’s Mission Valley neighborhood, next to the site where the former Riverwalk golf course is being redeveloped by Hines with housing and other mixed-use components.

CoStar data shows apartment rents have risen 13.9% in the past year in the San Diego region. At the same time, the region's median single-family home sales price reached a record $775,000 in February, according to data firm CoreLogic, echoing rising housing cost trends seen throughout Southern California.

The moves by county and transit leaders come as San Diego joins other regions looking to make more efficient use of surplus government-owned property to feed rampant need for housing that is affordable to working families, after decades of under-construction that led California to seriously lag behind housing demand. California laws passed in 2019 made it mandatory for local governments to offer up surplus properties to affordable housing developers before other types of builders.

San Diego needs to add at least 100,000 housing units by 2029 to help the state reach its 1.5 million-unit goal to meet demand, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The housing agency reports that California during the past decade has built an average of 80,000 housing units per year, well below the 180,000 units needed annually to keep up with expected housing demand growth through 2025.

Low supply has caused housing prices to escalate, hindering affordability and exacerbating homelessness. Six of the nation’s 10 largest regions for homelessness are in California, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with San Diego ranking seventh with more than 7,600 unsheltered people.

The California list is led by Los Angeles at No. 2 nationally, with the 10 largest regions for homelessness also including San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Ana.

San Diego has over the past year made city-owned properties available for housing, including land next to the San Diego Sports Arena and near downtown’s Petco Park stadium, home of Major League Baseball's Padres. Five development teams are vying to put housing and other components next to the sports arena in the Midway neighborhood, and the city is expected to make a final vote next month on plans by the Padres and developer Tishman Speyer for a $1.5 billion mixed-use apartment project next to the downtown ballpark.

Also this month, the North County Transit District, which oversees bus and train services in San Diego County's northern cities, announced it planned to issue its own request for proposals for apartments and other commercial development at existing transit stations. North County transit officials are looking to bring housing, retail and offices to existing stations serving cities such as Carlsbad, Oceanside and Solana Beach.

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