North Park Density Bonus Program—Who Wins and Who Loses?

By Kristin Harms, University Heights Resident

If you live in a “Huffman six-pack”, a building with at least 6 units and parking between the building and the sidewalk “City planners are hoping North Park’s new plan can help get rid of them,” according to a recent Voice of San Diego article.

Named after their developer, “Huffman’s” are the apartment and condominium complexes of six to 10 units built in the 1960s and 1970s with parking spaces between the buildings and the sidewalks, as shown in the photo below.


A Red Herring?

In the proposed North Park Community Plan Update, the City is offering developers a density bonus to encourage redevelopment of Huffmans in the residential swath between Park Blvd., the 805 freeway, Howard and Lincoln in North Park (area outlined in blue below):

NP Density Bonus AreaThe bonus would allow developers to increase density up to 73 dwelling units per acre, which could result in 4-5 story buildings that look like this:

Deca-73 du-ac

According to City planners and local developers, the density bonus would also provide more affordable housing simply by increasing the supply of housing, and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply because of their location near to the Mid-City Rapid Bus Line. However, the City is not requiring any of the units allowed by the Density Bonus to be affordable (developers may pay an in-lieu fee if they choose) nor is the City requiring any real energy saving features such as solar roofs.

Who Loses with the Density Bonus

The reality is that Huffman buildings provide affordable housing to many residents of North Park. According to City planners, as shown in the map below, there are approximately 1,000 Huffman type buildings in North Park which, by their calculations, represent approximately 6,000 housing units and as many as 12,000 residents. This represents about 24% of the total housing stock in North Park and about 26% of the population, according to the 2010 Census. The area in red below is the Density Bonus area and the blue dots are Huffman buildings.


Replacing these buildings with new condos and apartments could displace many existing residents who may not be able afford a new one. As shown below, Census Tracts 9 and 13 encompass most of Bonus Density area:


According to SANDAG, close to 82% of the 11,375 residents living in these two census tracts live in multi-family dwelling units, more than likely a Huffman. Of these, almost 60% have a household income of less than $45,000 per year, and almost 19% of households make less than $15,000 per year.

Income-Census Tracts 9-13

Further, 13% are age 60 and over, and another 13% are under age 19. Less than half are White, almost a third are Hispanic, 10% are black, and 7% Asian.

Age-Census Tracts 9-13.png

Ethnicity-Census Tracts 9-13

Who Really Benefits from the Density Bonus?

According to the Federal Housing Administration, the “The current (2015) limits for FHA debt-to-income ratios are 31% for housing-related debt.” Using that ratio, 60% of the 11,000 plus residents in the Density Bonus area could only afford a monthly housing payment of $1,163 or less.

According to the City’s Affordable Housing Information web page, “the median income for a family of four in San Diego is $63,400. Utilizing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition, affordable housing for a low-income family (household earning up to 80 percent of San Diego area median income) would be an apartment renting for about $1,500 per month or a home priced under $225,000.”

Simply relying on “supply and demand” to create homes that are truly affordable for the residents of the proposed Density Bonus Area seems improbable at best.

It is easy to see who loses with the proposed Density Bonus. Who wins?

Take Action

Time is running short to take action on these important land use decisions. The North Park Planning Committee has already “approved in the concept” the proposed density bonus, so now it is up to the community to let the City Council know what they think. The City Council will be the ultimate decision-makers on these very important land use issues.

Please email Councilmember Todd Gloria (, and copy Lara Gates, City of San Diego Community Plan Update Manager for North Park (, and Vicki Granowitz North Park Planning Committee Chair (, with the following message:

  • Eliminate the new Density Bonus Plan (allowing up to 73 du/ac) for the residential area between Howard and Lincoln and maintain the base land use designation as Residential-Medium High (30-44 du/ac).
  • Change the land use designation along Georgia Street and Howard Avenue from Residential-Very High (55-73 du/ac) to Residential-Medium High (30-44 du/ac).
  • Maintain a 35-foot height limit in all residential areas.

Take Our Survey

If you live in a Huffman in the North Park or Uptown area, please take my short survey at Answers are anonymous and will only be presented in aggregate to the North Park Planning Committee, Uptown Planning Group, and with City staff and elected officials. Thank you!