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Commentary — Affordable Housing? For Who?

Want to hear an absurd concept? Tear down a 40-year-old neighborhood of single-family homes and uproot the middle-class families living there in order to build 91 very low-income apartments.

As bizarre as it may sound, it is in fact a reality in the city of Poway. Seven families are being moved off their properties so the city can meet its state-mandated affordable-housing requirements.

Ironically, I happen to be one of the seven families notified last October that the city wanted to purchase our house , as well as the homes of our neighbors , as quickly as possible. And you know what? The wheels of government spun pretty fast, though negotiations were more a battle of wills than a philosophy of let’s reach a quick compromise.

It was painful to even think about moving out of the home we had bought 12 years ago; in fact, we had just finished adding on a family room and a bedroom when we received notice of the city’s intentions. Finding a new home for our family of six became a constant burden, a stressful, sometimes ugly process that ultimately reached a resolution in early May.

I know such proceedings are a fairly common practice. Neighborhoods are frequently condemned to make way for major public-works projects, like freeways and sewers and the like. The California Department of Transportation even has its own department to deal specifically with such projects.

But houses for apartments? It was a new one on me.

Yet we understood the city of Poway’s bind. No affordable housing, you get penalized by the state. Like any other city with potholes to fill, Poway needs that money. And as the county’s second-wealthiest city in terms of median incomes, there is a need for affordable housing in Poway. There’s an ample supply of homes in the $600,000 to $1 million range, but the days of $150,000 to $200,000 houses for sale are long gone.

When I think of affordable housing, though, I think of our old home the city plans to tear down. Call me simplistic or perhaps na & #271;ve, but my interpretation of affordable housing are homes the average working-class family of four or five can afford to buy.

The spirit and intent of such mandates is right and good, but as home prices skyrocket, the term affordable housing becomes more and more of a joke. They are no longer affordable, they are subsidized housing; the projects.

What Poway plans to build certainly helps them meet their goal, but it does little to achieve the San Diego Association of Governments’ push for home ownership in the region. Sandag this month has hosted a series of events to promote home ownership and affordable housing.

The first week of the month was National Homeownership Week. Then the week of June 19-23 was Affordable Housing Week in the San Diego Region. These people want to promote home ownership, but they obviously have no clue how to do it.

The most recent new-home development in Poway opened in early May, and prices started at , started at , $380,000. There aren’t a lot of families who can afford that. Heck, we couldn’t afford that, and we’ve been married 20 years.

Here’s another blow to the cause: According to May figures released by the San Diego Association of Realtors, the average price of a resale house in San Diego County hit $383,713. That’s 28 percent more than the average sales price of $299,579 recorded in May 1999.

That’s just a staggering number to me, and it must be downright scary to those hoping to buy their first home, or are even buying for the second or third time. This may come as a shock, but not everyone is an engineer at Qualcomm. Most of us don’t pull a paycheck like a dot-com tekkie.

Poway, like other cities in the state, are painted into a corner with an affordable housing numbers game. They have to build X-number of units and have very little say in the matter.

If Poway had to take our property and build affordable housing, we would have much rather seen our old plot of land go toward homes people could actually buy. There are several nearby condominium projects, and giving more people a chance to buy even a condo is better than no homes to buy at all.

This is a numbers game, pure and simple. The supply of homes for middle-class families is rapidly dwindling. And government agencies are missing the boat.

There’s a big difference in the words subsidized and affordable. We don’t want the government paying for and building our homes. We just ask they afford us the opportunity to pay for it ourselves.

Bell is the managing editor of the San Diego Business Journal.

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