May 18, 2005

Dealing With Insanely High Housing Prices

High housing costs are a key contributor to sprawl. OK, some people live in the exurbs because they want huge McMansions and multi-vehicle "Garage Mahals" to store their tank-sized SUVs. However, many people truly would prefer to live more modestly, in or near cities and closer to their jobs, but simply can't afford any reasonable housing.

In the San Diego area, a recently announced public-private venture aims to make a dent in the problem. A $90 million investment fund will help developers "build homes for middle-income workers throughout San Diego County in the single largest infusion of money targeted at the region's pressing housing needs," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "By providing easy access to capital, the fund will be a big boost to smaller builders who specialize in middle-income, urban housing and often struggle to find money for their projects."

The crucially important consumer target for this program is people who earn too much to qualify for government-subsidized housing, yet can't hope to pay the region's sky-high housing costs on their own. A family of four with household income of between $49,600 and $124,000 a year could quality.

Wrap your head around that for a minute or two, please. A six-figure salary still isn't enough to buy a decent home in San Diego County. How can companies possibly attract mid-level workers? How can the average worker in San Diego live anywhere close to their job?

"The investment pool will be used to leverage more than $500 million worth of housing and commercial development in the county. It is expected to generate enough money to build as many as 2,000 rental and for-sale homes within older, urban communities over the next five years," the San Diego Union-Tribune says.

The median price of an existing single-family home in San Diego County - excluding pricier new construction that averages over $700,000 -- is $530,000, while existing condos resell at a median price of $380,000. Housing prices doubled in the area between 2000 and 2004, while household income rose 10.4%, according to the San Diego Housing Commission. Yeah, nice if you bought into the market before then. Not so nice if you didn't.

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