According to Mark Stuart, President and CEO of San Diego Foundation, affordable housing in San Diego is “the new epidemic.”

“As our region began to emerge from the worst days of [the COVID-19] pandemic, it became very clear that we are now faced by an even more excruciating epidemic that challenges our region in so many ways,” Stuart said. “This man-made plague is the incredible lack of housing affordability and access throughout every corner of our county.”

Stuart’s remarks were made at the San Diego County-City Joint Housing Summit on Oct. 3 at San Diego State University. The summit was the first joint meeting of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and San Diego City Council in over 20 years.

“We know housing is foundational to life,” said County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher. “It is the most basic thing you need to live a fulfilled and thriving life. We also know that in San Diego County we have some of the least affordable housing anywhere in the country.”

San Diego’s New ‘Epidemic’

In presenting to the assembled elected officials, county and city staff, interested citizens and other attendees, Stuart shared a long list of the issues related to housing affordability and access, such as lack of generational wealth building, growing homelessness, exacerbating climate change and gentrification of vibrant, diverse neighborhoods, among other issues.

“San Diego Foundation has been very focused on playing a key role in finding solutions to this challenge as a philanthropic leader and innovation partner with all of those who wish to see real results as quickly as possible,” Stuart said. “That’s why the foundation launched our San Diego Housing Fund… At that time, our Board of Governors made its single largest discretionary commitment – $10 million – to jumpstart our efforts on affordable housing.”

In sharing how SDF is prepared to help tackle the local issue of housing affordability and access, Stuart provided details about the San Diego Housing Fund that SDF announced with County officials in March 2022. Specifically, the San Diego Housing Fund will:

  • Leverage public, private, and philanthropic dollars
  • Invest in social housing projects across San Diego County (“local, scalable, and affordable”)
  • Create community-focused, equitable, and sustainable housing that supports working families and good jobs
  • Advance climate action plans through sustainable design and construction efforts

Introducing New Tools

As part of the presentation, Stuart also shared a new geographic information system (GIS) mapping tool developed by SDF affiliate, the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center. The tool brings together different mapping and data sources into one GIS tool to assist municipal leaders and staff with planning and making the best use of public land for affordable housing.

“From all of our research and study, the secret ingredient to making affordable housing truly affordable and to keep it that way for generations is free land,” Stuart said during the presentation. “That does not mean a public entity needs to give up control or ownership of that land; it’s contributed to this enterprise without cost to significantly decrease the per-unit building costs and to increase the production of new affordable apartments and homes for sale. There are many land holders, including religious institutions, that acquired parcels decades ago for future development and now is the time to consider how to best activate those parcels for the public good.”

The new tool filtered thousands of parcels of public land owned by local cities, public agencies, colleges and universities, and school districts, with 503 making the cut utilizing a 100-point scale with 14 variables such as quality of life, ease to build, land use, transit and geographic risks such as wildfires or flooding. The hope is that the mapping tool will lead to the new strategies needed to create economies of scale and streamline zoning, permitting and property selection.

The tool will be available for public use later this year at the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center’s website at

Learn more about SDF efforts to increase housing availability and affordability.