Proposal to impose tax on real estate speculation receives high marks

A tax on real estate speculation received overwhelming support over other potential initiatives as a means to curb housing displacement, and the coalition behind the effort is drafting legislation for the November ballot.

The proposal, along with six others that made a recent survey, was born out of a series of neighborhood tenant meetings that culminated in the largest citywide tenant convention in at least two decades, according to the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition.


Among the more than 600 tenants at the citywide convention Feb. 8, 77 percent selected the anti-speculation tax as their first, second or third choice, with 50 percent ranking it their first choice. As described by the coalition, the proposal would “impose windfall profits tax on speculators who buy and sell off housing without keeping the building for at least six years. The rate would decrease each year of ownership starting at 50% of the gain, with the quicker the ‘flip’ the higher the tax.”

“We don’t see it as a silver bullet,” said Sara Shortt, executive director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, “but we do see it as taking a large bite out of the eviction epidemic that we’re facing right now.”

A number of avenues exist to get an initiative on the November ballot, including collecting signatures and going through a full Board of Supervisors vote, Shortt said. But getting four supervisors’ support “is the most expedient.”

“There are supervisors that have already demonstrated their great support of our anti-speculation agenda, so we’ll probably go to those folks first,” Shortt said, mentioning John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar and Jane Kim.

Mar said he has been working with the City Attorney’s Office to draft legislation.

“We’re working on the details to make sure it’s legally defensible,” he said. “It’s a process that has involved many lawyers. It’s very complicated and we’re doing our best to gather as much input before it’s introduced.”

Campos said he was not surprised the proposal was the most popular.

“It makes sense that something that deals with speculation would get so much interest,” he said.

A tax on real estate speculation dates back to the late 1970s, when then-Supervisor Harvey Milk proposed similar legislation before his assassination, said his former campaign volunteer Cleve Jones.

“I think it will withstand legal challenges and I think it will have an actual impact,” Jones said of the coalition’s proposed tax.

The other six proposals tenants were asked to rank trailed the tax by a large margin. The second most popular idea would have, among other things, forced developers to meet The City’s below-market-rate housing goals in order to get project approvals.