ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council is exploring several recommendations released in a controversial equity study examining the city’s lack of racial diversity and affordable housing access for people of color.
The study, “Barriers to Racial and Ethnic Equity in Housing Study,” explored the city’s population being less racially diverse and potential barriers that disproportionately impact access to affordable housing for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Resident Bob Ayers, who grew up in Encinitas and supported the study, said the city’s historical barriers to housing are noticeable.
“I want to live in a city that is fair and just,” Ayers said. “There are barriers here that are so easy to see… All of my homeowning neighbors are wealthy, and almost all are White. This report helps us understand how we got here and provides us tools for progress.”
According to the city, the study, required under the city’s 6th cycle Housing Element, drew on demographic and housing data from various sources, including the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey, HUD Fair Housing Data, the California Department of Finance, SANDAG Data Surfer, San Diego County and the city’s Housing Element.
Additionally, the study incorporated 129 responses to a community survey and 21 interviews with “various stakeholders” to make its findings. After releasing its findings, the firm gathered feedback and recommendations from an additional 278 residents who participated in a second community survey.
According to the Census, the city’s White (non-Latino) population is about 76%, and the Hispanic and Latino population is approximately 15%.
The study found:
- Encinitas’ housing market is less diverse than neighboring cities, with low-income and BIPOC residents concentrated in specific areas.
- Policies, such as a lack of zoning for multifamily homes and the need for larger bedroom units, create barriers to developing more multifamily units. Proposition A further limits the city’s ability in this regard.
- A shortage of affordable housing exists, and programs promoting affordability fall short. The study highlights issues with voucher programs, including difficulty finding matches, long waitlists, removal from waitlists, delayed updates, and residents bearing the burden of information gathering.
- Affordable housing in Encinitas is limited, and the locations worsen existing inequalities.
- Limited public transit hampers the development of affordable and accessible housing.
- Private sector practices, such as “renoviction” (evicting tenants to renovate rental units), contribute to displacing residents.
To address these barriers, the study recommended the following:
- Educate city staff, policymakers, and the public on what racial equity means for acquiring and developing affordable housing in Encinitas.
- Implement just-cause eviction policies to safeguard tenants from no-fault evictions.
- Collaborate with landlords to provide information and debunk myths about the housing choice voucher program.
- Create an outreach plan to enhance tenants’ awareness of their rights.
- Strengthen the city’s capacity to handle fair housing complaints.
- Engage the San Diego Housing Commission to discuss the county’s first-time homebuyer program changes.
- Include transportation in a comprehensive approach to community development planning.
- Bring together an advisory collaborative of community leaders to gather local knowledge for decision-making.
- Employ a citywide diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator.
- Sustain funding for the residential rehabilitation program.
Several residents spoke out against the study, suggesting its numbers were skewed and that the size and layout of Encinitas were not considered before making recommendations.
Cardiff resident Natalie Settoon said the study is “flawed and full of assumptions,” and Rachel Graves called the study a “political agenda.” Graves also suggested the owner of the consulting firm was “anti-White, anti-Republican and anti-Black men” due to the nature of some of their social media posts.
Former Encinitas mayor Sheila Cameron said the study appeared to denigrate White people.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion seem to be the latest buzzwords sweeping the country, which has nothing new to offer except reverse discrimination, which you heard tonight,” Cameron said. “People behind this movement denigrate whites and consider us the enemy.”
Mayor Tony Kranz, who also grew up in Encinitas and graduated with Ayers, noted the city’s historical lack of diversity throughout his lifetime.
“Encinitas has always been very White,” Kranz said.
The mayor also suggested that Proposition A and other policies have inhibited multifamily housing in the city, noting that multifamily housing is typically more accessible to low-income households.
“Frankly, the city was incorporated based upon the cry that we’re not going to let apartment dwellers be part of our city,” Kranz said.
There were also several comments from residents generally in favor of the study that suggested some fine-tuning to the firm’s recommendations. Ultimately, the council decided to forego creating a new advisory group and hiring a DEI coordinator.
Instead, the council wants staff to explore boosting an existing staff position that navigates affordable housing programs in the city.
“Hiring a DEI coordinator seems too broad and not focused enough on what we’re trying to achieve here,” said Councilmember Joy Lyndes, who said the city is already implementing several recommendations.
Kranz encouraged staff to bring back information as soon as possible so the council could decide on its next move with the recommendations.
Opportunity Consulting will not be moving forward with the city on the study’s next steps after resigning from the project earlier that day, according to City Manager Pam Antil.