November 17, 2019

The Mercury News Opinion: San Jose measure will address homelessness, affordable housing


SV@Home Deputy Director Michael Lane weighs in on the upcoming revenue measure in San Jose.

Opinion: San Jose measure will address homelessness, affordable housing

Why City Council should move forward with March primary vote on funding for housing

Our community strongly wants us to address our homelessness crisis and major housing affordability problems. We’ve all lamented the recent homelessness census results and bemoaned the skyrocketing rents. We all know exactly what’s happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods and the pressure it is placing on our families, friends, and neighbors.

Now is the time for us to adopt evidence-based solutions that will provide relief in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. To this end, we strongly support the progressive and equitable ballot measure that the San Jose City Council will consider on Tuesday.

The proposed measure would raise the real estate transfer tax on luxury homes and commercial properties with a price of over $2 million to help fund affordable housing, homeless housing, and other related services. The tax is only paid when a property changes hands. San Jose currently has one of the lowest among major cities in the region. New city polling shows that 63 percent of voters support this approach.

We know how to solve homelessness, provide safe, decent affordable homes for vulnerable populations, and stop families from being priced out. As the largest city in Northern California and the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” we can and must do much better and implement proven solutions.

In the 2000s, the city of San Jose was producing 1,200 new affordable homes every year for a decade. This productivity made it a real affordable housing leader that was able to create an excellent quality of life for the thousands of lower-income households that live in those homes and will continue to do so for years to come. This effort has kept many local families and individuals from falling into homelessness or being evicted from our community.

Then, in 2011, with the State of California’s decision to eliminate local redevelopment agencies, that proven model and source of revenue that had allowed San Jose to improve so many lives was lost as the $40 million per year that had been invested in affordable homes disappeared forever. As a direct result, our affordable housing production over that time has declined by two-thirds.

Since the ending of redevelopment nearly a decade ago, San Jose still does not have a local, ongoing source of funding that would allow for significant investments in affordable housing even as our crisis continues to grow. We must change this now.

Without a local source of affordable housing funds, it is impossible to develop a robust pipeline of developments that can meet the scale of the problem and house our residents in need. While the city provides only part of the total funding needed, it is the critical initial local government guarantee and partnership that help put plans in action.

A real estate transfer tax applied to only the top 5% most expensive properties — and only when a transfer event occurs — is the best and most progressive way to generate resources to address our homelessness and housing affordability crises and garners strong support from voters.

The tiered tax would generate approximately $50 million per year and would fund city programs and services like providing affordable housing for seniors, veterans, disabled, and low-income families and helping homeless residents move into permanent supportive housing.

We urge the City Council to vote to place the real estate transfer tax on the March 3, 2020 primary ballot. It will ensure that those most well-off and corporations in our community pay their fair share and contribute resources to reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing options for working people in our community.

Michael Lane is deputy director of SV@Home, the voice of affordable housing in Silicon Valley. Raul Peralez represents District 3 on the San Jose City Council.