San Diego has embarked on a vast housing experiment, and the future of the region may depend on what it is.

The city has approved plans to dramatically increase the number of housing units in the coming years, using almost every tool at its disposal:

Lift height limits, consolidate development along transit lines, add density bonuses, require subsidized units, ease zoning restrictions, eliminate parking requirements, streamline regulations, and move to a fast-track process ” de droit ”which allows many projects to move forward without the traditional public hearings.

The long list of relatively new local and state housing policies reads like a YIMBY wishlist. The overarching goal of the California and San Diego chapters of “Yes In My Back Yard” and other housing advocates is to create more affordable housing in a state that desperately needs it.

“We are working with housing policy experts, elected officials and local organizations across California to develop and pass state and local level legislation that will help accelerate housing construction, resolve the crisis. affordable housing and reduce climate pollution, ”California YIMBY said on its website.

There is no doubt that the organization and its allies, including the donors, have succeeded politically. What no one really knows yet is whether this will achieve housing and climate goals.

It’s hard to imagine that the region won’t see at least some moderation in house prices in the years to come, if developers actually build what is allowed, encouraged and envisioned.

Many housing advocates and economists believe the overheating home sales market and high rents are largely the result of insufficient supply. But critics insist that just turning on the tap is not the answer to creating low-cost housing, but that larger public subsidies are needed for middle- and low-income residents to own home. and tenants. Others say what is on offer does not match the direction of housing market demand.

Expectations are high that the UC San Diego Blue Line Streetcar extension will transform not only transportation in San Diego, but housing as well. The line, which officially opens on Sunday, will connect downtown employment centers with La Jolla and University City.

The city raised height limits for developments near stations along the way – up to 100 feet at the new Tecolote Road station – and dramatically increased density.

For example, in a Linda Vista neighborhood, the plans would “increase the number of housing units allowed in the area from 1,386 to 7,016,” wrote David Garrick of The San Diego Union-Tribune when the plan was approved. by the city council in 2019..

“This is about five times what the current zoning allows, and seven times the 996 housing units already there.”

The hope is that large, compact ‘transit-oriented’ residential developments will be populated by people who rely on streetcars rather than cars, which could potentially reduce congestion on Interstate 5, or at least not l ‘exacerbate.

There are talks about building apartments, condominiums and tiny “micro-housing” along the streetcar route. The aim is to attract middle and high-income residents and turn them into public transport users, while providing units for low-income people who typically use trolleys and buses.

Yet riding public transportation regularly remains a foreign experience for the vast majority of San Diego. Much of the city’s population lives in suburban-style communities built for automobiles. That can change over time, perhaps, if an efficient mass transit system can be integrated in this automotive country.

But in addition to the uncertainty about whether a new mindset will emerge or whether much more public transport funding will materialize, there is another generic feature: remote working.

This growing phenomenon necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay, although to what extent is a matter of debate.

Last week, Politico wrote about a debate in New York on how to adjust to the likelihood that fewer workers will use public transport, fill desks and patronize businesses because they will be working from home. . If a transit-centric city like New York City is concerned about this, a place like San Diego certainly should be.

The Blue Line has its skeptics and Gary London is one of them, even though he looks like he doesn’t want to be. A senior San Diego housing analyst at London Moeder Advisors, London has doubts the new line will be the catalyst for housing or public transport use as planners envision.

“I hope I’m wrong,” he said, adding that if there was ever a local transit project to change the equation, “this will be it.”

One of London’s main criticisms of all government changes is that they primarily encourage rental housing – from strengthening transit corridors to allowing multiple units on current single-family lots.

“I don’t think the policy changes affect the home sales market significantly,” he said, adding the demographics would demand more PMQs.

But he noted that the rental market could be positively affected if enough apartments are built.

“If that happens, it will flatten out or, in some places, lower prices,” he said.

He firmly believes that undeveloped land under county jurisdiction is needed to build mass housing that would really make a difference. At least for now, political, legal and fire safety hurdles keep this property out of reach.

One of the themes of the supply argument is that if enough new homes are built, it will lower the price of existing homes. Howard Wayne doesn’t buy it. Wayne, a former member of the State Assembly, is the chair of the Linda Vista Planning Group Subcommittee on the Morena Corridor Specific Plan.

He said houses tend to appreciate. “These are not like used cars,” Wayne said.

The planning group disagreed with the city’s development plans for Linda Vista and came up with a compromise that included higher density, but lower than what the city ultimately approved.

Overall, Wayne argues that market-based solutions offered to entice developers to build more affordable homes aren’t working.

“Developers are rational economic players and their goal is to maximize profits,” he said. “They are not social service entities.

Borre Winckel, former head of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, seemed to agree with the latter part of that statement.

“… the construction of affordable housing should be a societal obligation assumed by the community as a whole”, he wrote in a comment published by the Union-Tribune in 2019, while he was still president of the BIA.

His main concern was that requiring projects to have low-cost units increases the cost of housing at market prices. Then there are the costs of regulations, land and building materials, he noted.

There are divergent views on what is causing the affordable housing crisis and what needs to be done about it.

But there is broad agreement that if not resolved, San Diego is heading towards a divided society of haves and have-nots – with increasing numbers of the latter having to move from further afield.