Public vs. Subsidized Housing – What’s the Dif?

You may have heard that San Diego has filed for divorce from its 1300+ units of public housing.  Is that a good thing, what does that mean and how will residents be integrated into the local housing market?  First of all, YES, it’s a good thing.  It’s a VERY good thing.  To understand what this means, you have to understand the difference between public and subsidized housing.


Public housing is physical property owned and managed by a municipality.  These are typically large apartment buildings or groups of buildings occupied by very low income households.  Basically, you have to be very poor to live there and all your neighbors are as poor or poorer than you.  Most of us know these places as “the projects.”  Subsidized housing, on the other hand is financial assistance to a person or household.  There are two forms of subsidies, certificates and vouchers.  Certificates are property specific, vouchers are mobile.  By far, the best kind of assistance is a voucher.


In order to complete the dissolution, the City of San Diego will need to obtain vouchers equal to the number of public housing units it currently owns.  If the US Department of Housing and Urban Development grants the City a sufficient number of vouchers, then they would be allocated to tenants who may choose to stay where they are or move somewhere else.  If they choose the latter, they will simply integrate themselves into the community by becoming renters in the free market along with everyone else, the only difference being that a portion of their rent will be guaranteed by the City.  This will create demand that doesn’t already exist.  Depending on the timing, there could be a substantial impact on the rental market and local economy if the transition coinsides with the first troop withdrawals scheduled for early summer.