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Sprawl and the Challenge of Making Ends Meet in San Diego

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

It’s no secret that living in San Diego comes with a big price tag. The majority of San Diegans spend an average of 55% of their income on housing and transportation, leaving them with insufficient money for other necessities like food, healthcare, or retirement savings. This isn’t a price of living in “America’s finest city” but the result of poor land policies that favor expensive housing and transportation options over more affordable alternatives.

For decades, San Diego officials have authorized housing projects in sprawl developments on the outskirts of the city, where mainly single-family homes (low density development) are built. These projects strain public agencies and impact taxpayers everywhere because providing new roads, fire stations, schools, and other municipal services in newly created communities is costly.

A Smart Growth America report found that, on average, roads, sewers, and water lines for sprawl projects cost 38% more up-front and ongoing services like garbage removal costs 10% more because of the added distance traveled to serve residents. Sprawl development diverts public resources that could otherwise go toward improving our quality of life in existing neighborhoods.

Picture this: a life where you don’t have to spend more than half your income on housing and transportation. What would you do with that spare money? Would you invest in the stock market? Save for emergencies? Go on vacation once a year?

So now the question is: Is it even possible to lower the cost of housing and transportation in San Diego? Absolutely!

There are plenty of strategies for reducing housing and transportation costs, and guess what? Sprawl development isn’t one of them.

Instead of sprawl, we need infill development near the places that people already live, work, go to school, and shop. But, to make this possible, the City must extend permits to build multi-family housing. We also need to expand our transit system and invest in biking and pedestrian infrastructure so more people can access jobs and amenities without having to rely on gas-powered vehicles.

Pictured Above: Missing Middle Housing Graphic by Opticos Design, Inc. featuring diverse housing options, such as duplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, and multiplexes.

At Climate Action Campaign, we advocate for smart, compact development to provide quality, affordable housing and transportation for all residents. Want to learn more about how we can achieve this?

Stay tuned for our upcoming report “Solving Sprawl: Moving Toward a Sustainable and Equitable San Diego” where we outline key solutions to tackle the housing shortage and affordability crisis. Sign up to be the first to receive this report here.

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