A number of vacant street-level storefronts stand out in East Village.
  • A number of vacant street-level storefronts stand out in East Village.
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Is the demand for housing suitable to fill the thousands of rental units that have sprung up in downtown's East Village since the mid-2000s, and enough to sustain even more units currently under construction or in the planning phases?

If so, some longtime business owners wonder where their customers have gone, and residents of new projects are confused as to why so many of the units in their buildings are offered on the short-term rental market to vacationers or other travelers.

"It did not take too long for them to reach close to capacity, maybe a few months," says Gina Rodriguez, one of the first tenants to move into the Form 15 mid-rise at the corner of Market and 15th Street in October of 2014. She and her husband, however, began having problems when Essex Apartments took over as the property manager.

"Once the new management team took over, [Airbnb-style listings] started popping up as soon as leases were up, it seemed," Rodriguez continued. She says that by the time she moved out last September (breaking her lease to do so), at least 20 units in the building were being used full-time as short-term rentals.

"They would treat the building like a hotel and use it to host loud parties, take over the amenities, and generally trash the place. It was always the same known Airbnb apartments that would receive complaints and nothing was ever done to address the issue.

"I think the most aggravating part was that management not only did nothing about it, but they were the ones orchestrating it!"

The complaint seems verified — the Form 15 building is one of at least a half-dozen offered on Stay Alfred, a business dedicated to renting out apartments and, with management's consent, subletting them exclusively as hotel-style rentals. Larger sites such as Airbnb and VRBO turned up hundreds more listings available for an upcoming weekend, though duplicates likely exist.

Essex, which operates a total of 16 developments in the county, did not respond to a media request seeking further information on short-term rentals being placed alongside full-time residents; nor did management at other nearby buildings accused of similar practices.

Part of the problem could be related to the high cost of housing — this spring, overall vacancy rates in the county were hovering around 2 percent. For units with a monthly rent between $2200 and $2299, however, vacancies accounted for close to 20 percent of available units.

Rents at Form 15 start at $1757 for a studio unit — a two-bedroom runs $2630, while three-bedroom units fetch at least $3895 a month.

Salazar's Fine Mexican Food had to close in July for lack of business.

Salazar's Fine Mexican Food had to close in July for lack of business.

Walking the neighborhood, even while residential upper floors show signs of life, a number of vacant street-level storefronts stand out. Across the street from the mostly unoccupied ground level of Form 15 lies the building that once housed Salazar's Fine Mexican Food, a business Marta Radcliffe and her family operated for 45 years until it was shuttered in late July.

"It was a sad, slow, kind of drawn-out death," Radcliffe says. "The business has just died over the last ten years or so. A lot of high-rises went in, and they're all empty. Historically we had a lot of small local businesses — our breakfast and lunch were our strong times.

"But as they built all the high-rises, we lost our breakfast and lunch business because all the local workers were gone. Dinner was always a slow time for us, and it didn't pick up any as an offset.

"It's like a ghost town down there now," Radcliffe continues. "There are a lot of homeless people nearby; they're about the only ones we'd see the last few years — an odd person walking their dog, but not the vitality there used to be."

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Cassander Sept. 12, 2017 @ 9:59 a.m.

Never forget that this is the neighborhood the builders and their pro-density cheerleaders have held up as a model of the "smart growth," "work live play" development they want to spread to Golden Hill, North Park, Hillcrest, and every other neighborhood east of the 5 and south of the 52.

If they get their way, all the existing affordable housing will be torn down to build more towers with units kept empty by foreign owners who just want a safe place to park their money and greedheads going for the tourist dollar. It's a win for everyone—except those who live here.


r_e_uhhh Sept. 12, 2017 @ 10:40 a.m.

The only example of a business failing downtown that was given was Salazar's... I have walked in there before and it went out of business because the kind of people who ate there don't live there anymore. When I walked in, no one was there to greet me and it was so desolate and old-fashioned that I just walked out.

The other "empty store fronts" could easily be explained by the fact the city pushes ground-floor retail in an environment that is saturated with floor space. In addition, a lot of those who would lease the space bide their time waiting for well financed professional looking tenants in an effort to lower turn-over and ensure their space maintains its value.

Finally, a lot of people who live in downtown San Diego (including myself) airbnb our rooms even though we live there full time. The profit motive is big if you can get a way with it especially given our good climate and expensive rents. Without AirBnB I'd be behind on other bills... the rent situation isn't good obviously but its one of the few tools renters have to make ends meet. Always such a dramatic, small-town, suburban mindset with so many of the writers and posters on this website, it's a shame because they are the ones holding San Diego back from its true potential.


dwbat Sept. 12, 2017 @ 1:16 p.m.

If you have to AirBnB your rooms, then you obviously should not have rented such an expensive East Village apartment in the first place, and/ or you are not budgeting your expenses properly. How much are you spending every month for overpriced coffee drinks, restaurant meals, bars, Nordstrom clothes, casino trips and expensive music concerts?


jnojr Sept. 12, 2017 @ 4:48 p.m.

Where should s/he go for lower rent? I'm the first to blast people for living beyond their means, but it's entirely possible that someone could be stretched without Nordstroms, casinos, concerts, etc. I usually say that people who can't afford to live here should move somewhere else, but that inevitably results in whining that I lack compassion and that it "isn't fair".


dwbat Sept. 12, 2017 @ 7:40 p.m.

There are older apt. buildings in North Park, for example, which are much cheaper than those luxury buildings in East Village.


r_e_uhhh Sept. 13, 2017 @ 9:45 a.m.

I am 26 and make nearly 6 figures. I can absolutely afford to live in my neighborhood. Additionally, I split a three bedroom to save even more money. I strictly adhere to my budget and refuse to pay more than 30% of my income for rent.

I think it's funny that the older generation always cites the same tired assumptions about millennials. The fact that I regularly AirBnB my room doesn't mean I can't afford where I live, but if I can make the numbers work better so that I can go on extra trips who wouldn't want that?


dwbat Sept. 13, 2017 @ 5:40 p.m.

I would not want to rent out a room in my apt. to strangers (if I had an extra room). And I "wouldn't want" to take "extra trips," either.


danfogel Sept. 14, 2017 @ 12:19 p.m.

" Without AirBnB I'd be behind on other bills... the rent situation isn't good obviously". "The fact that I regularly make nearly 6 figures my room doesn't mean I can't afford where I live".

I hate to tell you this, but at 26 and making "nearly 6 figures", if you would be behind on other bills without AirBnB, then yes, you can't afford to live where you do, whether it is because your rent is to high or you have too many other "expenses". Like they say the first step is ALWAYS admitting you have a problem. Denial simply just doesn't make it go away.


r_e_uhhh Sept. 15, 2017 @ 10:34 a.m.

I think if you look at my other comments from this thread I've made it clear that I am using the flexibility from AirBNB to do a lot more than I normally would. It's not like I'm on the brink of poverty... but if I didn't have AirBNB this summer, there are at least 3 trips I've taken that would have been completely unfunded, a savings rate of 15% wouldn't be possible, a 10% giving rate to charitable organizations wouldn't be possible. Sure, I could have just not taken those trips... but I really wanted to.

I think this entire line of questioning is a huge distraction from the fact there is a group of people who have a serious problem with renters putting their pads on AirBNB and not having a truly rational reason to be against it.

"Big Loud Parties", "Property Damage", "Crime" -> Statistics?, Facts? Anecdotal evidence is all any of you have. If we want to rely on anecdotal evidence, I can say I haven't seen, done, or experienced this myself and I have put my place up dozens of times and have been at other people's AirBNB's dozens of times. That body of anecdotal evidence is already more substantial than most of yours. But you heard something on the radio or on TV so your hysteria has merit I suppose. I don't know what I expect from a generation that elected a man president based on hysteria, conspiracy theories, and orthodox beliefs.

It's different from what you're used to. Change is bad. Growth is bad when it gets to close to you. When renters have more power over their life, that's clearly the worst thing of all.


dwbat Sept. 14, 2017 @ 8:01 a.m.

RE: "The profit motive is big if you can get a way with it." Does your landlord allow you to AirBnB your room? Does your rental agreement address this situation?


r_e_uhhh Sept. 14, 2017 @ 9:37 a.m.

Yes, it is forbidden. But until I get evicted, I don't plan on stopping. I go on vacations and business trips at least one week a month... leaving my room sit empty just doesn't make sense when I can make money off it.


dwbat Sept. 14, 2017 @ 6:52 p.m.

As a former professional property manager, I don't have respect for tenants who willingly violate their lease/rental agreement. If you DO get evicted, you would learn that it did NOT make sense to rent out your room.


danfogel Sept. 14, 2017 @ 9:44 p.m.

And as a current owner of more than a dozen rentals in 2 different state, NONE of my lease agreements allow it. And anyone who knowingly/willingly violates ANY portion of their lease agreement will found themselves out on their ass as quickly as legally possible. Fortunately, it has been at least a dozen years since it was necessary to oust someone.


r_e_uhhh Sept. 15, 2017 @ 10:15 a.m.

Doesn't that really get at the heart of this disagreement? It's about perspective. From the perspective of someone who owns dozens of rentals it seems maddening that a renter would break the terms of a lease.

But then take a moment to think about things from the perspective of someone who is renting and has had their rent increase 6% each year they have lived somewhere while wages go up about 2% a year. It's easy enough for you to say "tough luck, just move" but if I have no problem having a stranger sleep in my bed while I'm out of town... what is the harm? Especially when I have two other adults in the house making sure there is no funny business? If I'm grappling with rising costs, relatively flat wages, and an easy source of income... my decision making will come down to straightforward economics. The fact is that from a risk perspective, AirBNB is not some wild west where anything goes, there is a rating system that prevents people from abusing the service and there is also a $1M dollar insurance policy on top of that.

Maybe I'm coming off as spoiled brat who takes too many vacations but at the end of the day I just don't see any moral quandry here. No one is getting hurt, the risk of problems is low, and I get to have a very flexible budget.


dwbat Sept. 15, 2017 @ 2:34 p.m.

The moral quandary [NOT "quandry" as you spelled it] is that violating one's lease in this manner is wrong. Nobody forced you to rent that apartment, and you agreed to the lease terms by signing it. Then you turn around and violate those terms because you got a rent increase or you take way "too many vacations." Is this the millennials' approach to ethics?


Cassander Sept. 12, 2017 @ 10:59 a.m.

Thanks, r_e_uhhh, for creating your account today just to badmouth me and others concerned about how you and other pro-developer shills continue to destroy our quality of life.

The point is, the "Aria" and every other building over 5-6 stories requires the use of steel and tension concrete, making the costs of construction more prohibitive than wood framing, and that gets passed along to the buyer/renter. You could be in a unit that doesn't cost so much it "requires" you to AirBnB if we had real smart growth with zoning that really does value pedestrian scale. But again, that would require having other goals than maximizing returns for developers.


r_e_uhhh Sept. 13, 2017 @ 10:03 a.m.

If you have walked through East Village you would see that the vast majority of buildings are 5-6 story stick builds. I am a proponent of dense neighborhoods whether stick builds or soaring concrete buildings. This however doesn't make me a pro-developer "shill".

The fact is developers in suburban areas as well as in urban environments if left to their own devices will not take anything into account other than the bottom line, I definitely agree that flexible, smart zoning in necessary. However, tall buildings in San Diego doesn't equate with this idea of developers gone mad... the fact is, more people are moving here and more room must be made; as a result of a number of political and regulatory hurdles, the already high cost of tension concrete and steel structures is going up.

Also keep in mind that the majority of new buildings being built are for renters and not condos. It is disheartening to see all of Bosa's monstrosities by the ocean dark at night because no one lives there, but I think anyone who spends time in East Village sees that is full of people who do in fact live there.

My only point with posting wasn't to "badmouth" you. It was to remind readers that this article was cherry picking individual facts to create a narrative that East Village is some desolate wasteland and that AirBnB is somehow associated with the depopulation of the city. I wanted to add my perspective that people can live in this community and use AirBnB as tool to help them and not replace them.


bbq Sept. 12, 2017 @ 3:26 p.m.

First realize we have a housing crisis in this area, housing costs and rents are outrageous, if based on income vs. expenses we rival New York and or Vancouver. Which brings me to the conversations I had over the weekend , one couple that live in Brooklyn at times between roommates airbnb'd an extra room, this allowed them to start their own business and stay where they wanted to live. When the airbnb host lives onsite it is very different than an absentee host. The second couple owned a Condo in Vancouver as a vacation site, visiting a few weeks a year, well Vancouver added a tax for absentee residents of $10000/ year and they decided to sell and use other accommodations next time they visit, freeing up a condo for a full time resident since Vancouver has the same issues with housing we have. Maybe its time to look at alternatives outside the simple boxes our elected officials and NIMBYs seem stuck in. BBQ


Cassander Sept. 12, 2017 @ 3:59 p.m.

I agree with Vancouver's solution (and have written about it here before). And I do think there is a big difference with live-in tenants taking in guests (though I wonder about stories like this where an endless parade of strangers is considered preferable to a roommate).

The issue is the commodification of housing results in all new units built being kept empty or snatched up for short-term rentals only, keeping them out of reach of people needing housing. We need to tackle housing as speculation in all its forms.


jnojr Sept. 12, 2017 @ 4:44 p.m.

Why is it that the people who are so unhappy about AirBNB won't call the police on loud, abusive, disruptive people? That's far more effective than bleating for laws and bans.


dwbat Sept. 12, 2017 @ 7:44 p.m.

The SDPD is way understaffed now, and loud AirBnB people have a very low priority for the police.


jnojr Sept. 13, 2017 @ 12:31 p.m.

I have never had a problem getting police to respond to noise complaints. Sometimes they haven't come as quickly as I'd like, but they come. They know that resolving the noise complaint now prevents bigger issues in an hour or tomorrow.


dwbat Sept. 24, 2017 @ 7:19 a.m.

What specifically was the response time after your last noise complaint?


r_e_uhhh Sept. 13, 2017 @ 10:11 a.m.

I think the bigger misconception is that there is a loud, disruptive, AirBnB guest problem to begin with. I go on lots of trips for work and to see friends and AirBnB my room when I'm gone. And after having dozens upon dozens of guests, there has never been one incident. The fact is, most people who AirBnB might be younger, but just because we have all heard of a horror story on TV, it doesn't mean that there is a noise or crime problem.


dwbat Sept. 17, 2017 @ 9:57 p.m.

Bot again, you are violating your lease. Why?


Ponzi Sept. 24, 2017 @ 7:39 a.m.

We have similar problems to Vancouver because we had the same Tasmanian Devil developer, Nat Bosa, roll through town and throw up his massive sun blocking high-rises just like he did to Vancouver in the 1990's.


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