Local affordable housing advocates are proposing a $900 million bond measure in November that would fund roughly 7,500 subsidized apartments for the chronically homeless, veterans, senior citizens, disabled people and low-income families.
Supporters say the measure, which would raise property taxes in San Diego by about $72 a year for the average homeowner, would provide enough affordable housing to potentially solve the city’s homelessness problem.
The measure would also help San Diego secure a greater share of state and federal money devoted to homelessness and affordable housing by providing local matching local funds typically necessary for such assistance.
Without such local funds, San Diego will be eligible for less state and federal assistance than other California cities and counties that have approved similar tax hike measures addressing homelessness in recent years.
Those cities and counties — home to roughly two-thirds of the state’s population — include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Alameda County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and Berkeley.
Supporters say the local bond measure would complement, not compete with, a separate November ballot measure unveiled on Monday that would raise hotel taxes to expand the waterfront convention center, repair roads and address homelessness.
The estimated $30 to $50 million per year that measure would devote to homelessness could fund counseling and other support services at the 7,500 apartments the bond measure would fund, said Stephen Russell, head of the San Diego Housing Federation and the man spearheading the bond measure.
Russell said many of the same groups that have endorsed the hotel tax measure, including organized labor, have told him privately that they also support his measure.
“We've heard very broad support from various parts of labor," Russell said during a Tuesday morning meeting with the editorial board of The San Diego Union-Tribune.
He said, however, that public endorsements by labor groups, elected leaders and other organizations wouldn’t come until after the bond measure’s language is finalized in late spring.
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, and that many would pay far less than that.
Supporters say they expect it to be difficult to get the two-thirds support needed for approval of the tax hike, a challenging threshold that is extremely rare for ballot measures in San Diego County to surpass.
That’s partly because of ardently anti-tax sentiment among roughly a quarter of local residents, Russell said.
The county Republican Party has a blanket policy of initially opposing all tax increase measures, county chairman Tony Krvaric said by telephone on Tuesday.
Krvaric said that rule would apply to the housing bond measure and the hotel tax proposal, but added that his board could decide this summer to be neutral or even endorse the measures after analyzing them thoroughly.
Russell said he hopes to widen support by convincing the construction and real estate industries to support his measure.
"We really need a big tent on this because it is a two-thirds threshold," he said.
Karen Brailean, a volunteer at the Regional Taskforce on the Homeless, said last year’s Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego could help the bond measure pass.
"There is real danger here in keeping people in the streets without a home," she told the U-T editorial board. "People that I see are much more interested in doing something now."
Sue Reynolds, chief executive of nonprofit Community HousingWorks, said another reason for optimism is that some cities and counties where tax increases aren’t typically popular have passed them recently to address homelessness.
"The fundamental question is whether voters believe this is fundamental to San Diego's future — its business future and its neighborhood future," Reynolds told the editorial board.
A telephone poll conducted in early November by supporters of the bond measure is another reason for optimism, they say.
The poll of 600 likely voters showed 73 percent support for a $900 million bond devoted to low-income housing. That support dropped to 71 percent when people were told how much property taxes would increase.
Russell said supporters chose $900 million partly because the poll showed support would dip to 65 percent if voters were asked to support a $1.2 billion bond measure.
The $900 million would fund construction of somewhere between 5,500 and 10,000 subsidized units based on land costs and other factors.
Russell said supporters expect the money to cover 7,500 units, which would be divided into three parts: 2,500 units for the chronically homeless, which is called permanent supportive housing; 2,500 units for low-income families; and 2,500 units for veterans, seniors and the disabled.
He estimated that construction could begin two years from now, with the first units opening to renters in about four years and all 7,500 being open in about nine years.
A third proposed ballot measure addressing homelessness will be presented Wednesday to the City Council's Rules Committee by Councilman David Alvarez.
His proposal would devote increases in hotel tax revenue over the next 20 years to homelessness services, shelters and permanent supportive housing. It would need only simply majority support from voters for approval.