- A $900 million housing bond for San Diego has moved one step closer to the November ballot.
- It would be funded by raising taxes on city property owners by an average of $72 per year.
- A November poll showed 71 percent approval of such a measure, which needs two-third support to pass.
A proposed $900 million bond measure to build low-income housing got one step closer to the November ballot this week when a San Diego City Council committee voted 4-1 to have city staff further evaluate it.
The proposal would raise taxes on city of San Diego property owners an average of $72 per year to pay for roughly 7,500 subsidized apartments for the chronically homeless, veterans, senior citizens, the disabled and low-income families.
Supporters say the measure, which needs support from two-thirds of voters to pass, would simultaneously help solve the city’s homelessness problem and affordable housing crisis.
In addition to the local money it would raise, the measure would help San Diego secure a greater share of state money devoted to homelessness and affordable housing by providing local matching funds typically necessary for such assistance.
Without such local funds, San Diego will be eligible for less state assistance than other California cities and counties that have approved similar tax hike measures addressing homelessness in recent years.
“I think you’ve presented very compelling arguments – both compassionate ones and financial ones,” Councilwoman Barbara Bry of La Jolla said during Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s Rules Committee. “The state is likely to pass a bond measure and we won’t get our fair share of the money unless we have local matching funds.”
Councilman Chris Cate of Mira Mesa said he was concerned about the impact on middle-income and low-income property owners.
“I appreciate that this is definitely for those who are most in need, and I can respect that, but there are also people who own homes that are struggling every day too, and this is an additional tax on them,” Cate said.
Cate voted in favor of having the proposal analyzed further, but said he plans to scrutinize the final version thoroughly before the full council decides this summer whether to place it on the November ballot.
Councilman Mark Kersey of Black Mountain Ranch, who cast the lone “no” vote on Wednesday, said one of his key concerns was that affordable housing is a countywide problem, but only city property owners would face property tax increases under the proposal.
“Our city voters are basically being asked to shoulder a fairly large burden,” Kersey said.
Stephen Russell, head of the San Diego Housing Federation and the man spearheading the bond measure, said polling showed a bond measure covering the whole county would be unlikely to pass.
But he said a November poll of 600 likely voters living within the city showed 71 support for the measure, even after people were told how much property taxes would increase.
The bond measure would increase property taxes $19 a year per $100,000 of a property’s assessed valuation, which is often much lower than a property’s market value because of the protections of tax-limiting Proposition 13.
While the average sale price of a home in San Diego has surpassed $500,000, supporters say their calculations indicate the average homeowner would pay $72 per year if the bond measure passes.
Kersey also questioned whether the measure might conflict with a separate November measure that would raise hotel taxes to expand the waterfront convention center, repair roads and address homelessness.
Russell said the $30 to $50 million per year that measure would devote to homelessness could fund counseling and other support services at the 7,500 apartments that the bond measure would fund.
“We see these as complementary and potentially synergistic measures that are up to the scale of the problem,” he said.
Councilman Chris Ward of University Heights said he was pleased the measure would divide the money equally among three priorities.
Based on the 7,500 estimate of housing units it would fund, the measure would build 2,500 units for the chronically homeless, 2,500 units for low-income families and 2,500 units for veterans, seniors and the disabled.
No members of the public spoke against the measure, while a large coalition of housing developers, social service groups and community organizations praised it.
Lori Holt Pfeiler, chief executive of Habitat for Humanity’s San Diego chapter, said the bond money is crucial.
“The market can’t produce housing for low-income families – there has to be a subsidy,” she said.
Homeless advocate Michael McConnell and several others said the bond measure would do more to end San Diego homelessness than any other proposals being considered.
“Here’s the measure that will actually really do something about real solutions,” he said.
Councilwoman Myrtle Cole of southeastern San Diego said she was upbeat about the proposal but needs more information before July about how quickly the units could be built and other concerns.
“There are a few details that I would like clarified before really, fully committing to the proposal,” she said.
City Attorney Mara Elliott’s staff is scheduled to bring back to the Rules Committee this spring potential ballot language and other information.
The council is expected to vote in late July and early August which proposed measures to place on the November ballot.
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