Homeless advocates rallied at City Hall today in support of a plan to sped a $181 million property tax windfall on homeless services and housing. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Advocates call on city to spend windfall on homeless services

Wiping tears from her eyes, Reina Cruz recounted a recent period in her life when she was living out of a car with her three children.

“Every time I picked my children up from school the very first thing they would ask was, mom did you find any housing for us?’ And I would say, no, there is nothing for us,’” said Cruz, a single mother.

Cruz was among some two dozen advocates– many of whom have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness — who gathered on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to demand that City leaders use an unexpected $181 million surplus to fund homeless and housing services mandated under the voter-approved Proposition C.

The funding is a small part of an $415 million windfall from property tax revenue that The City received last month. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on its allocation early next year, and already city leaders are sparring over how it should best be spent.

Supervisor-elect and current school board member Matt Haney has proposed using the money to fund school district-related services and educator raises that were mandated under Proposition G, an annual $298 parcel tax approved by voters in June. While the tax is being collected, it has yet to be spent, as the measure is facing legal challenges over the threshold by which it passed.

Due to the pending litigation, the onus of paying out the 7 percent wage increases is currently placed on the school district.

But Mayor London Breed has proposed allocating some of the surplus funds toward building housing and shelter beds, among other things, to advance the goals mandated under Proposition C, which passed this November. On Wednesday, the advocates called for half of the windfall to go toward permanent supportive housing, and the rest toward homelessness prevention services, behavioral health and emergency shelters. 

Prop. C established a corporate tax hike on companies with more than $50 million in annual revenue to expand homelessness services and build affordable housing, but is facing the same potential legal challenges as Prop. G and another tax measure passed in June to fund early childcare services. The City Controller’s Office has said it cannot disburse the funds collected by the tax due to the legal uncertainties surrounding it.

Breed opposed Prop. C in November’s election, but has taken steps since then to ask City Attorney Dennis Herrera to file a motion seeking to legally validate the measure. When the windfall was announced, she said she was committed to using it to meet the goals of Prop. C.

“We are collecting funds, the controller is collecting them, they are sitting in a pot… but they are not releasing them. In the meantime we want to make sure that everything is turnkey ready when those funds are released,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, director the Coalition on Homelessness.

“We are really confident we will win this lawsuit. We have a lot of things that we can do to get ready for that,” said Friedenbach. “We can acquire buildings, get going on construction…this windfall money can really get us there and that’s what we are asking for The City to prioritize.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the Coalition on Homelessness has not taken an official stance Mayor London Breed’s proposal.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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