Will SF Voters Back Housing For All?

by on March 8, 2018

June Measure Raises $1 Billion for Housing, Homelessness

San Francisco, like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and other cities, suffers from both an acute homeless crisis and an inability to provide affordable housing for its working and middle-class. On June 5, San Francisco voters can take a big step toward changing this. If voters approve the Housing For All ballot measure, it will generate $1 billion for housing and serve 25,000 individuals and families.

And it won’t cost the vast majority of voters a dime.

Large commercial property owners are having their gross receipts  taxes raised to support Housing For All. The Chamber of Commerce and business groups whose members will be paying the cost have already agreed to back the measure.

The only obstacle to the city using this money is the need to get a 2/3 vote. And this is far from automatic for two reasons.

First, as I wrote about in January (“Why New SF Homeless Funds Are at Risk”), there is a competing ballot measure that also raises the gross receipts tax. Backed by Supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim, this measure allocates the increased tax revenue to childcare.

Since both measures are raising the same tax, only one can win.

Kim’s measure was put on the ballot through signatures. Under a recent California Supreme Court ruling, tax increases put on the ballot in that manner only need a majority vote to prevail.

This means that if the childcare measure gets 51% and Housing for All gets 65% of the vote, the childcare measure wins and the housing initiative loses. That’s because 51% represents a victory for the childcare measure while Housing for All needs 66.7%.

Some may ask: why didn’t the Housing for All backers also  get signatures so that it too would only need majority approval?  What happened was that Mayor Ed Lee, the leader of the Housing For All campaign, died. His death put everything on hold. What would have been a time for the Housing for All campaign to unite on text and begin gathering signatures was understandably dealing with the aftermath of the shocking and unexpected loss of Mayor Lee.

So Housing for All needs a 2/3 vote. Can it get it?

Reality Check

San Francisco has never had the resources to meaningfully address   homelessness since the crisis emerged in 1982. No city can make up for the massive federal housing cuts that left millions unable to afford homes. But other cities have passed local tax measures to help combat the problem.

San Francisco has not.  Instead it has looked for other ways to find money.

Gavin Newsom’s voter approved Care Not Cash program brilliantly created $14 million in annual funding for housing homeless persons by reducing the homeless welfare caseload from 3000 to 350. Newsom’s program also dramatically expanded the city’s low-income housing stock. San Francisco has also had great success in securing federal grants and has allocated general fund dollars toward homelessness.

But unlike Los Angeles, where voters recently passed a $1.2 billion measure to combat homelessness, San Francisco has not voted for new taxes for housing those on the streets.

June’s Housing for All ballot measure offers San Francisco this chance.

No prior San Francisco housing  measure funds so many vital program areas: it includes middle-income housing, SROs, rental subsidies for low-income seniors, supportive housing, and Navigation Centers. The measure also protects rent controlled housing and longterm tenants by adding millions of dollars to the Small Sites Acquisition Program.

June is the only chance for Housing For All. If the childcare measure wins and Housing For All fails, the key funding source to bring $1 billion for affordable housing and homelessness will be gone. And anyone who tells you that the city could pass a $1 billion housing and homelessness bond in November (raising taxes for all property owners) has been digging way too deep into the cannabis.

Political Landmines

Jane Kim’s childcare measure is backed by her closest allies on the Board, Fewer, Peskin, Ronen and Yee. Housing for All is sponsored by Safai, Sheehy Tang, Cohen, and Acting Mayor Farrell. Board President Breed is a big supporter.

With two of the three leading mayoral candidates sponsoring competing initiatives, politics abound. Mark Leno has not yet taken a position on Housing For All.

Supervisors identifying as “progressive” should eventually endorse Housing For All. Progressive voters will likely vote for both measures, not wanting to personally choose between childcare and housing.

So whether Housing for All gets the 2/3 support will come down to moderate homeowners. This group is increasingly vocal about its unhappiness with persistent, visible homelessness.

They now have an historic opportunity to do something about the problem. They can vote for Housing For All, and urge their friends and work colleagues to do so as well.

San Francisco can do this. But it is up to voters to make it happen.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. His new book on the urban housing crisis will be out this fall from UC Press, Generation Priced Out: Who Will Live in the New Urban America?

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's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior 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. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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