By David Campos
For the first time in generations, Americans this week heard from their President an unfamiliar refrain: The importance of taxing the rich.
“It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest one percent to begin to pay their fair share,” President Joe Biden told a joint Congressional session on Wednesday.
In San Francisco, there is already broad agreement about taxing the rich — every year voters overwhelmingly choose to tax the wealthy to fund solutions for basic needs like homelessness, housing and childcare. For San Francisco’s Democratic Party, the question today is whether our city leaders will heed the mandate of the voters and actually spend these tax dollars as voters intended.
Hours after the Democratic President’s address, the local San Francisco Democratic Party voted, without a single dissent, to urge city leaders to spend Proposition I funds as they were intended: to provide rent relief, prevent homelessness and to build affordable housing. The vote was necessary because some city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, have indicated that they plan to spend Prop. I funds on their own priorities and thus ignore the will of the voters who passed Prop. I.
Despite an aggressive $5 million attack campaign against it, Prop I passed with 58% of the vote, doubling the transfer tax on those selling real estate worth $10 million or more. The tax has already generated significant revenue for the city, including more than $32 million from the single sale of Dropbox’s former headquarters.
Proposition I was part of a broader Fair Recovery Package introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston, a Democratic Socialist on the Board of Supervisors who has not been shy about his intentions to tax the wealthy. The package included two programs, explicitly intended to be funded with Prop. I revenue: A Rent Resolution and Relief Fund, aimed at helping renters and small property owners recover from COVID-related debt, and the Housing Stability Fund, which will direct money to permanently affordable, social housing strategies that currently do not have dedicated funding streams. These are real and urgent needs in San Francisco, yet Mayor London Breed is choosing to turn the other way.
Though there is federal and state money coming for rent relief, it falls far short of the need. Our City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst estimated that as much as $32 million per month is owed in back rent. Our existing funding barely scratches the surface, and without further investment, our homelessness crisis will only get worse. Prop I as intended would cover thousands of tenants in need.
The broader lack of affordable housing is an issue familiar to all San Franciscans. Indeed this past Friday, Mayor Breed spoke in support of the federal stimulus plan to allocate $18.7 million for the creation of affordable housing, rental assistance, and homeless services saying the federal funding “allows us to build up our homelessness prevention efforts and create more affordable housing on a scale that was really unimaginable.”
Prop. I almost doubles that figure to create even more affordable housing. The City’s Controller estimates that Prop I will generate $64 million in the coming fiscal year – half to rent relief, and half – an additional $32 million – to create affordable housing that is absolutely essential to our recovery, as voters intended.
The local Democratic Party represents a broad spectrum of Democrats – from very progressive to staunchly moderate – and there are certainly varying opinions on taxing the wealthy on the committee. But this week’s vote was not about policy – it was about democracy, upholding the will of the 236,000 voters who supported Prop I, and delivering the pandemic rent relief and affordable housing that will prevent homelessness that our city objectively and desperately needs.
David Campos is Chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.