Why New SF Homeless Funds Are At Risk

by on January 18, 2018

Competing Tax Measure Imperils Voter Approval

After San Francisco voters rejected a sales tax increase to address homelessness in the ill-conceived Props J and K of November 2016, Mayor Lee vowed to get a new homeless funding plan on the 2018 ballot.  This week it arrived:  a gross receipts tax increase raising $100 million annually to house low and middle income residents as well as the city’s homeless.

Sponsored by Supervisors Safai, Sheehy, Cohen, Tang and Farrell and also backed by Acting Mayor London Breed, the measure addresses issues that polls routinely put at the top of city priorities. With the business community on board, the road to securing the 2/3 voter approval needed seems clear.

But looks are deceiving.

The problem is that other supervisors have submitted a measure to the Board that also increases the gross receipts tax—but its goal is to raise $100 million for childcare. The tax can’t be raised twice. This means it is childcare vs. housing with only the measure getting the most votes winning.

The childcare measure is sponsored by Supervisors Kim and Yee. When asked about the rival initiative Kim told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Our child-care measure focuses on enrolling all San Francisco infants and toddlers in early education programs so more families aren’t forced out of our city. I’m disappointed any initiative would seek to undercut that important priority.”

A Poor Process

I understand Kim’s frustration. She identified a funding source for childcare and now sees this money potentially instead going to housing. Meanwhile, housing backers see a tax on commercial rents as having a lot more to do with housing than with childcare.

Is housing and homelessness a bigger city priority than affordable early childcare? Do we even want to see a campaign where arguments against the importance of the other priority are made?

Or should this be a question of, as what we learned in first year property law, first in time, first in right? Should the claiming of the tax increase for childcare prevail because it was filed first?

Or should the housing and homelessness measure get the nod because after Props J and K’s defeat there was always a plan for a new homeless revenue measure.  Is it fair that this is now disregarded because the childcare measure got filed at the Board first?

Ideally, the supervisors could have held hearings or otherwise tried to figure out among themselves how to avoid a public fight between funding early child education and housing and homelessness.  But things are very political at City Hall these days and that did not happen.

Who will win in a contest between early childhood education and housing for the middle-class, low-income and  homeless? It is now up to voters.

I fear that both good causes will lose. It’s never easy to win a 2/3 vote. 25% of regular votes reject almost all bonds, so the victory margin is not big to start. It would only take a small sample of supporters of each measure to decide to vote “No” on the other to fall short of the 2/3.

After all, only one can win.

If both fail to get 2/3 San Francisco will have failed to follow the lead of other west coast cities in getting voters to increase funding for combating homelessness. This despite popular support for doing so.

My hope is that the supervisors reach an accord so that only one moves forward. If that fails, then they should  agree that if both initiatives fail in June the measure that got the most votes proceeds on a stand alone basis in November.

We’ve got a desperate homeless problem in San Francisco. With declining federal housing funding, the city will pay a steep price for failing to raise major new revenue to address this crisis.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron




Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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