web analytics

Berniecrats push parcel tax for city-owned, city-run affordable housing

Trending Articles

Benjamin Becker, left, and Laksh Bhasin, co-authors of the San Francisco Community Housing Act, are seen at South Park in the South of Market neighborhood on Friday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)


Progressives are finally putting their ideas where their mouths are.

A new local ballot measure crafted by the Berniecrats, a political club, would levy a parcel tax to create community-based affordable housing in San Francisco. And in a nod to European models, The City would own and operate that housing.

“It’s very ambitious and very creative,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community and Housing Organizations. “It’s not just another source of funding. It’s not nibbling around the edges. It’s presenting a complete rethinking of our affordable housing system.”

It’s also an answer to center-left, moderate Democrats, who often promote a “build, build, build” mantra with little affordable housing attached. The usual song and dance that takes place in San Francisco politics goes as such: Moderates call for new development to bring down rental prices by increasing housing supply; progressives say that development may lead to displacement of nearby low-income communities; the housing is blocked; moderates (fairly) ask, “OK, so what’s your solution?”

Now, the Berniecrats are finally proposing one.

The group filed at City Hall to run the initiative in November, but first they’ll need to start collecting signatures, with a deadline of July 9.

“It’s a really bridge building measure for housing in San Francisco because it doesn’t set a YIMBY NIMBY, doesn’t fall into that stupid dichotomy,” said Benjamin Becker, co-chair of the Berniecrats. “It focuses on what is the problem, and how do we solve it.”

The San Francisco Community Housing Act, as its called, would create a 43 cents-per-square-foot parcel tax in San Francisco that would raise more than $210 million per year. The Berniecrats claim buildings like Salesforce Tower would pay close to $600,000 annually under the tax. That cash would go toward development within 0.4 miles of transit like BART, Caltrain and Muni stations, an echo of state Sen. Scott Wiener’s senate bill 827 — only with affordable housing available to low- and moderate-income tenants.

The Berniecrats are also very fired up about the measure’s tenant-voted community council, which would oversee tenant well-being. Childcare and other neighbor-friendly amenities would exist onsite.
“We want to think about what communities need to thrive,” said Laksh Bhasin, a member of the Berniecrats.

Now, though this all sounds well and good, I’m told the measure has an uphill battle. Insiders with knowledge of housing policy pointed to a provision in the community housing act that bars landlords from passing down the costs of the tax to tenants, which my sources (rightfully) said would likely raise the ire of the Association of Realtors and Apartment Association, prominent landlord-friendly groups.

But pro-tenant organizations may feel the squeeze, too.

Gen Fujoika, policy director at the Chinatown Community Development Center, said public housing they operate would likely be charged the parcel tax as well, as no exemptions exist in the community housing act for nonprofit public housing. CCDC houses families and seniors in Chinatown and across The City.

“It’s a potential big hit,” Fujioka said. “We haven’t quantified it yet, but clearly for some of our larger buildings its hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding that goes to affordable housing.”

The only exemption in the tax that I could find was for below-median income homeowners. That’s also a hitch, some insiders said, because other groups who will end up paying the parcel tax may become the Berniecrats’ fiercest opposition.

“We only did a first pass at it, but there was so much in it that was troubling,” Fujioka said. “We appreciate the intention, but man.”

Hey, at least they’re trying.

Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend, and many of you wrote in to say kind things about my column previewing the event. But perhaps my favorite note came from the mother of my childhood friend Nico.

SEE RELATED: Specs celebrates 50 years in North Beach

Nico and I attended Sherman Elementary School and Marina Middle School and stayed in touch later on, as well. And Nico’s sister, Julia, was good buds with my younger brother. Their mother Diane wrote me this: “Did you know that Richard (Nico & Julia’s dad) and I originally met at Specs? In fact, at the bar’s 8th anniversary party. Guess that would make it 42 years ago! Time flies.”

Time flies, and San Francisco is a small city. The smallest, even. But gosh, isn’t that why we love it?

Speaking of bars, I was knocking back a few brews at Virgil’s Sea Room with my friend Salome, having a somewhat-tipsy discussion about the June mayor race (as if I don’t deal with it enough in my professional life!). Salome and I used to teach together at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts High School, and the family of one of our former students ambled up and jumped in with their thoughts. One in the group told me perhaps the oddest reason I’ve heard for a mayoral vote.

“I’ll tell you why I won’t vote for Mark Leno,” he told me. He was shopping at the Safeway in Diamond Heights when he spotted Leno ahead of him in the express-aisle. Leno allegedly had a cornucopia of items, well over the 15 item limit.

“He knew,” this SotA dad said. “He looked me right in the eyes.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Click here or scroll down to comment