There goes the affordable neighborhood

Bulldozers ready to obliterate Peñasquitos Village apartments

On Monday, March 5, expanses of dead grass and power and gas shutoff tags hinted at what's to come.
  • On Monday, March 5, expanses of dead grass and power and gas shutoff tags hinted at what's to come.

It took three years of planning, hours of contentious debate before the city council, and a last-minute deal with opposition forces that left some tenants feeling blindsided, but Lennar Homes ultimately got approval March 5 to bulldoze some 332 former low-income housing units in Rancho Peñasquitos and replace them with 600 townhouses, condos, and apartments under the banner Pacific Village, most of which will rent at market rates.

A deal with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to maintain the Peñasquitos Village apartments as affordable housing stock expired in 2010, 40 years after the complex was built. Since then, ownership has honored existing agreements with its tenants (many of whom receive Section 8 housing assistance) but has ultimately planned to redevelop the site.

After facing stiff opposition backed by local labor unions, Lennar apparently agreed to a deal that allows remaining tenants to stay for another 120 days, allowing families with children to complete the school year. Also included in the deal are cash payments for remaining tenants to assist with moving expenses and lease deposits at alternate locations, depending on how long a tenant has been a Peñasquitos Village occupant. The builder further pledged to ensure that all of its Section 8 recipients found new homes before their scheduled move-out dates.

Over the weekend, the Save PQ website quietly removed all of its content and replaced it with a message stating that the group had officially switched from opposition to neutrality on the new development, with confidence "that the relocation assistance provided in the agreement will substantially help current residents to find suitable alternate housing." An online petition with more than 1100 signatures opposing the development and using the same branding as the home page remained online as of Monday evening.

Many tenants appear to have seen the writing on the wall: the property is already reportedly 60 percent vacant. A visit on March 5 turned up conditions indicative of a property soon to face the wrecking ball with roughly paved roads and paint peeling from the long, low-slung buildings situated between expanses of dead grass. Power and gas shutoff tags were freshly hung on a handful of front doors.

Tom Lemmon of the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, while officially expressing neutrality on the project in keeping with the agreement, called affordable housing in San Diego "a farce" before the city council on March 5, stating that the deal received support because it represented "the best we can get."

Of the 276 new apartments to be built on the site (the other 324 homes will be offered for sale), 60 are to be reserved as "affordable housing," meaning a household earning 65 percent of the area median income ($51,545, based on a 2017 median income of $79,300 for a single individual, higher for larger family sizes) could afford to rent there. These represent the 10 percent minimum for affordable units being built, but Lennar has further promised another 12 affordable units will be built off-site in connection with the project.

Others were even less supportive.

"The deal treated people as bargaining chips and not as 'normal people,'" wrote Rafael Bautista of Tenants United San Diego, a tenant advocacy group backing Peñasquitos Village residents who are unhappy with the settlement. "The neutral stance that labor accepted was seen as a stance in favor of the project by the city council. They sold a silence that was not theirs to negotiate."

Bautista said he'd spoken to tenants who were largely unaware that an agreement had been reached. The "normal people" reference is credited to councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who used the phrase to describe tenants not receiving rental assistance and lashed out at the audience following their negative reaction.

Other councilmembers noted that the commitment of any low-income units represent a benefit, as builders can opt to pay a fee in lieu of offering any affordable units.

With the approval, which also includes variances to allow six fewer parking spaces than required and an exception to the 30-foot building height limit, developers can move forward with vacating the rest of the residences and pulling permits for demolition to begin.

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The sad irony is that once this is built, it's likely to remain as vacant as it is now.

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