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Population growth outpaces housing construction


It’s more difficult than ever to find a place to call home in the San Diego region, according to a report just released by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

Numbers don’t lie. The SANDAG report, part of the agency’s periodic INFO series, validates that home builders have been unable to meet the demands of a growing population. This demand versus supply imbalance has continued the upward spiral of higher housing costs, more people deciding to live under one roof, and ever daunting commutes from Riverside and Imperial Counties as well as Baja California.

It may come as a surprise, but population growth in the San Diego region is actually slowing down compared to previous decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, fueled by a strong local economy and rampant domestic migration (i.e., people moving into the county from other parts of the U.S.), the San Diego region had a growth rate that was triple the national average.

However, the economic recession in the early 1990s dramatically reversed this upward trend. Between 1991 and 1996, net domestic migration averaged minus 30,000 people each year. Even so, we averaged a gain of about 18,000 per year during that time due to births and foreign immigration. Although net domestic migration is once again “out of the red,” every year since 2000 has produced less overall growth than the one before it

As the largest city in the region, San Diego added the most people between 2000 and 2004, but its growth rate of 5.8 percent was well below the regional rate of 7.2 percent. Chula Vista added about half as many people as San Diego, but that represents a growth rate of 20.7 percent – nearly triple the regional rate.
Combined, the cities of Carlsbad, Chula Vista, and San Marcos accounted for more than 30 percent of the region’s population growth during the four year span. Only six cities - Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Coronado, Encinitas, Oceanside, and San Marcos - grew at a rate faster than the region as a whole. 

New home construction is way below what the region has experienced historically. Throughout the 1980s, the region added about 23,000 homes per year, and the recession of the subsequent decade caused a drop to just 9,400 units annually. Since the 2000 Census, the region has had an average increase of about 14,300 per year. 

However, since the end of the recession, an unfortunate trend has continued – population is outpacing new home construction. Between 2000 and 2004, the region’s population increased by 7.2 percent, while new homes grew by only 5.1 percent. Going back to January 1995, the increases are 15.5 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively.

Housing Type
About 61 percent of the region’s housing stock consists of single family homes, both detached and attached (i.e., townhouses). Another 35 percent are multifamily, and the remaining four percent are mobile homes.

For most of the 1990s, there were very few multifamily units built in the region because builders and lenders were wary of construction defect litigation and local resident opposition to such structures. Since 2000, however, multifamily construction has comprised nearly 36 percent of the 53,000 homes built.

More than 70 percent of the homes in Poway, Encinitas, Lemon Grove, and the unincorporated communities are single family dwellings. In Imperial Beach and El Cajon, less than half are single family homes. Mobile homes make up 17 percent of the housing stock in San Marcos and 13 percent in Santee, although this equates to just 3,700 and 2,500 units, respectively. Unincorporated communities have the largest number of mobile homes with more than 15,000.

City and county officials, working under the auspices of SANDAG, have put together a Regional Comprehensive Plan (RCP) that is designed to balance shifts in housing and population with changes in land use, employment, and transportation. Monitoring and analyzing the region’s land use and land ownership trends assist policymakers, residents and builders gain a better understanding of infrastructure needs and develop innovative ways to provide more housing and more types of housing.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or