The San Diego Housing Commission and area elected officials Wednesday kicked off a three-year, $80 million program to provide more housing for the area's burgeoning homeless population.
The new phase of the commission's Housing First-San Diego plan involves six initiatives, which include giving incentives to landlords to rent to people who are homeless, providing more than 700 housing vouchers, constructing more affordable housing and voucher-eligible housing units, and assisting 600 more families that become homeless because of a sudden change like loss of a job.
In January's annual tally of the area's transient population, 5,619 homeless individuals were counted in the city of San Diego, a 10.3 percent increase from last year. Of those, 3,231 were living on the streets.
City and county officials have responded recently with a series of proposals on how to address both homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.
"We need to slow and reverse the growth in homelessness, which is why this plan focuses on making more housing units available, as well as preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.
"It's a comprehensive strategy that breaks down bureaucratic silos by putting more resources behind projects and programs that work," Faulconer said. "We're giving people a safety net so when they become unemployed, face domestic violence or lose a home, they don't end up living in a car or shelter."
The mayor's office estimated than 3,000 people could be helped by the program.
"Housing First" focuses on providing people who are homeless a permanent home as soon as possible, rather than putting them in transitional housing.
Rick Gentry, head of San Diego city’s Housing Commission, said more than 500 affordable units have been added to the city’s affordable housing inventory in the first two-and-a-half years of the city's Housing First plan.
Gentry said the biggest investment over the next three years will be about $50 million to invest in building 500 new affordable housing units. However, he said, there is no data to keep track of how many affordable housing units the city is losing, as older units are redeveloped, often into luxury condos.
The California Housing Partnership estimates that San Diego County is at risk of losing 1,800 affordable homes in the next five years.
About $10 million will provide 700 new rental housing vouchers. The waiting list for a housing voucher is between seven and 10 years.
Gentry said, because many people have trouble finding a landlord who will accept their voucher, $6.6 million will be earmarked to provide incentives to landlords to accept those vouchers.
This expands the mayor's Housing Our Heroes program, which provides incentives to landlords to rent to homeless veterans. Incentives will now be provided for renting to all homeless.
"We have increased our individual landlord participation by some 388 new landlords," Gentry said. "And I think that’s a testament to private sector landlords stepping up to the plate."
In a new part of the program that has not been tried before, $2.9 million will help nearly 1,500 families at risk of becoming homeless stay in their residences.
"To most effectively address homelessness, San Diego must not only implement strategies to house the people who are currently homeless, but also strategies to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place," said Councilman Chris Ward, whose district of downtown, Hillcrest and North Park is heavily impacted by homelessness.
"These expanded resources will allow the Housing Commission to make great progress on both fronts," Ward said. "As chair of the City Council's Select Committee on Homelessness, we will continue to work to develop new complementary programs, improve collaboration between city departments and with partner agencies, and further strengthen the city's plan of action on homelessness."
The new council committee met for the first time last month.
Finally, the commission will earmark $300,000 to expand support and coordination of existing street outreach efforts.