County officials eye housing-tax measure

Polls show Santa Clara County residents could favor property tax for affordable housing

In an ongoing effort to shore up affordable housing throughout the South Bay, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors are considering a $750 million bond for the November ballot that would help pay for new homes for veterans, seniors, low-income families and the homeless.

Earlier this year, the board signed a resolution stating that homelessness in Santa Clara County constitutes a "crisis," with unacceptable costs in terms of both public resources and human suffering. What's more, the resolution called on individual cities to do their parts and increase the availability of below-market rate and affordable housing to stem the tide of residents falling into homelessness.

Similarly, the board of supervisors is trying to find ways to do the same. In February, the board voted unanimously to test the mood of Santa Clara County voters to see whether residents would support a countywide affordable-housing measure. And it turns out that the support could be there.

Last week, the firm EMC Research found that roughly two-thirds of likely voters in Santa Clara County would support a $750 million general obligation bond to build low-income and supportive housing geared toward veterans, seniors, low-income families, the homeless and other "disadvantaged residents," including victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse.

Of the 805 residents polled, 31 percent believed that housing was the most important issue facing Santa Clara County, beating out transportation, crime and public safety, jobs creation and education. It's also a big change from previous years, according to Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research. In 2005, just 11 percent of those polled said housing was the most important issue -- specifically housing for low-income residents.

"There is significant support for a measure that would focus resources on increasing the number of affordable housing units in the county," according to a staff report.

Following arguments for and against the housing bond measure, and explaining that it would cost property owners $14 per $100,000 of assessed value, Bernstein said support drops to just below the two-thirds majority required to pass a measure. But with the right public messaging from a private, positive campaign, she said, the measure could succeed in November.

"We do think there is an opportunity, and it is worth considering, given these numbers," Bernstein said.

The board of supervisors agreed in a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Joe Simitian absent, to have county staff flesh out exactly what the general obligation bond would look like and how the money would be spent. The board is expected to review a resolution by August, in time for the November ballot.

"Our polling results shows a very strong concern among voters about our lack of affordable housing as well as support for a measure to pay for it," Board President Dave Cortese said in a statement following the meeting. "Now we need to get down to the details so that our voters have a clear picture of what we are asking them to support."

Some of the greatest support for an affordable-housing measure came from Santa Clara County's fifth district, which encompasses North County cities including Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and part of Sunnyvale. Of those polled in the region, 62 percent consistently supported a potential ballot measure, regardless of arguments for or against, and regardless of the cost -- the most of any district.

Voter support for a ballot measure is expected to be highest among residents who do not typically vote in elections, but are expected to cast their ballot in the November presidential election, which Bernstein said indicates that the county has a rare opportunity now, but probably not if it's delayed to the 2018 election.

"Many of those voters will show up to vote in this presidential election because that's when they tend to vote, in these big turnout elections," Bernstein said. "They tend to be younger, maybe more progressive, and much more likely to be renters who are more concerned about housing issues."

Jennifer Loving, executive director of the supportive housing agency Destination Home, told the board that she was "thrilled" that there's an opportunity to build new housing for the most vulnerable residents in Santa Clara County.

"New money can go a long way to ending our homelessness crisis," Loving said.

Supervisor Ken Yeager said public support could waver depending on the specific details of the bond. The polling showed enough public support, he said, but it's not clear whether those polled were hoping for rental units or homes, and whether they would support high density developments.

"We're going to need a certain level of detail so people can understand what they're supporting," Yeager said.

Cortese said he wondered whether the scope of the housing bond could be extended to middle-income families as well, recalling recent data that found only 17 percent of the residents in Santa Clara County could actually afford to buy a home. He said a lot of people feel like they are caught up in the affordability crisis in the Bay Area, and it'd be hard to go wrong building housing for broad number of people.

"The need for housing is so severe across the board that it's pretty hard to make a mistake investing in housing," Cortese said. "It's not like you can invest in the wrong sector of housing and waste your money. There's just a tremendous need."

As the details of the ballot measure are fleshed out, Yeager suggested that the county seek public input from city leaders across all 15 cities in Santa Clara County, and get a feel for what kind of development might be feasible in local communities.

The worry, Yeager said, is that the bond might end up being used to bolster affordable housing in San Jose instead of the far-flung communities that haven't done enough to build more housing for low-income residents.

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34 people like this
Posted by Social Engineer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

How cool that the supervisors can do these enticing social engineering experiments with other people's money, and saddle current and future homeowners with a mere 3/4 of a billion dollars in debt.

11 people like this
Posted by Social Engineer +
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 11:15 am

How cool that the supervisors can think ahead and act responsibly to see how they can make our region stronger and more vibrant, by asking people to vote. This is how a democracy should work. Yes the 66% threshold is a high bar to get over, as it should be, but if the community votes to access itself a housing tax, then yes, let's raise the $750M and help our teachers, firemen, store keepers, nannies and homeless.

For a $1M assessment on my home, that would cost me $140. I would pay that to have my shopkeepers, teachers, vets, police and firemen living nearby versus having to live 100 miles away in a cheaper area and clogging up our roads driving to and from work. We are stronger as a community when we are diverse and economically integrated.

34 people like this
Posted by oldman
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2016 at 11:17 am

oldman is a registered user.

Simple solution , VOTE NO, If it passes most of the money will go to San Jose

12 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2016 at 12:20 pm

This sounds good, however the reality is that when near 80% of the potential homebuyers are not able to purchase a home, we have a bigger problem that is not so easily solved. Building new low cost housing, in one area, could create a housing area that might be very undesirable to live in, I hesitate to say slum like, but that is the tendency for low cost housing that is concentrated in one area.

I am a veteran, qualified by VA to purchase a home, but the available homes would require me to have $300,000.00 to $1,000,000.00 for a down payment, which is money way beyond my means, as I have $0 to put down. The VA allows for up $0 down and up to $417,000.00 (a payment of about $1,700.00 per month) for home purchase in most of the US, and up to $621,000.00 (a paymemt of around $3,200.00 per month) in the Bay Area. The big problem for me, is that the home prices start at about $800,000.00 and go up, in areas that would be available, and relatively safe for a late 70s-80s person to live. I doubt that the low cost housing would help me in any way, because I guess I fit into the bottom of the middle income group, less than $100,000.00 per year.

Just input from a disgruntled old man.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2016 at 12:27 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2016 at 12:42 pm

There have to be many questions answered before I would vote 'yes'. I've never understood polls but I trust the experts know from their education and background what a meaningful sample size is. I'm always curious how the people in the poll are selected.

How people in my district can be so supportive of a ballot measure regardless of the arguments for or against and regardless of the cost, boggles my mind.

There are way too many groups lumped together who would supposedly benefit. What would be the selection process? And spreading it further to include middle income people dilutes it even more. What is the total projected number of people who would benefit. I understand the purpose of the poll, to test the water before putting a big effort into getting it put on the ballot, but I think there is no chance to get any meaningful feedback from the public and cities before the ballot deadline.

45 people like this
Posted by Spread the wealth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Why concentrate the incremental tax burden on homeowners? If it is a collective goal for a diverse community then everyone should contribute. Broad based initiatives should have a broad tax base.

How about an increase to the sales tax or to businesses that are causing the housing imbalance instead?

39 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2016 at 1:02 pm

2 no votes from our family. Income taxes, property taxes, sales tax, utilities, etc. all going up very significantly. Utility rates (especially H2O) look like they will be going up 10-20% per year for the foreseeable future. Then they wonder why cost of living and associated rents are rising rapidly? Hopefully renters voting for parcel tax measures will realize that they have to pay too through rent increase. There is no Santa Claus handing out free stuff.

17 people like this
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2016 at 1:03 pm

We'd like to think by simply voting yes, we will no longer have any housing problems for the teachers, firemen, store keepers, nannies and homeless; but, in the cobby depths of my memory, haven't various housing-assistance packages passed before? And we still have all these teachers, etc. who can't afford to live here. Not to mention other middle-income people who might be excluded from the selection process. I just have a bad feeling we'll be paying $140 more in taxes and still be seeing the same sad headlines.

31 people like this
Posted by I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Social Engineer +

You need to update your analogies for the disadvantaged categories and remove any references to Palo Alto employees. Based on recent data discussed on this forum, safety workers (including police and fire) and full time city management average about $200K per year.

We need pension reform and not new taxes.

29 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Dan makes an excellent point about the "proposed" rise in utility rates at the same time the sales tax is expected to rise due to the transportation initiative.

Read the statement stuffer in your latest bill. They're raising the rates on everything -- trash, water. gas, electric. AGAIN.

Enough already. The more you "conserve," the higher the rates go.

32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Let's get this straight. They are going to be asking us for tax increases for VTA and increases for low income housing.

Are we expected to be money pits? Do they expect us to have bottomless pockets? Are we expected to fund more and more basic infrastructure?

We pay our taxes already. We pay property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, parcels and bonds, and they still ask us for more.

I would like to see some of these basic infrastructure improvements made with the money we are already paying. As we keep being told, the population of the Bay Area, Santa Clara County, California is increasing. Forgive me if I'm wrong but doesn't that mean there are more people paying taxes so that the tax revenue they are collecting from us is going up anyway?

I would like to see better budgeting and money management at the top with the huge increases in revenue they are receiving before I say yes to one more tax measure that probably won't do a thing to affect or improve what happens in Palo Alto.

19 people like this
Posted by No Sense
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2016 at 6:29 pm

How do you make housing more affordable by increasing the tax on housing ?

Not only can fewer people afford housing these days, many of those that can afford housing can just barely afford it. If you increase utilities and property taxes every year, then add these bond assessments, you'll end up busting the homeowners who are barely hanging on... pushing even more people out of housing.

This makes no sense.

9 people like this
Posted by Priorities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 7:21 pm

"Simple solution , VOTE NO, If it passes most of the money will go to San Jose"

Actually, if it passes, most of the money SHOULD go to San Jose, because there is so much more need there and the money will go SO much further. During the Maybell debates, a person who lives in Palo Alto affordable housing asked me point blank why anyone would spend so much money on a few units in Palo Alto when there is so much regional need, why wouldn't they build twice as much housing a few towns over? It's hard to answer that, especially when Palo Alto wasn't at the time putting a priority on saving the affordable housing of existing residents poised to lose it. I personally would prefer to see a ballot to raise money to help first with preventing evictions of low-income people who are long-time residents of the Bay Area. There is a certain transience to any boom time, and many people do leave during bust cycles. But people who have put down roots here and have contributed to their communities their whole lives surely deserve some priority over people who come and go. I do not buy that we need to build more housing here, rather, we should facilitate some of the companies creating a second center of innovation. This is a VAST country with many dilapidated areas in need of that kind of investment. It's better for the country if there are options.

If this bond does not first prioritize existing low-income residents, I am going to vote No because it's more likely to create extreme inequities - new low-income people winning the lottery while existing residents get the shaft. When these kinds of funds don't have to care about things like that, they also become all about the development rather than people, and thus become targets of manipulation by big developers. That hurts the cause of affordable housing in the long run, and hurts communities.

There is no way to meet demand in a desirable place, it's far better to solve the problem if the marketplace causes some of the reason for the demand (the jobs) to go somewhere new (like Roseville or Placerville) and create another vibrant jobs center. It's simply not true that people won't commute if tiny housing is built closer in, many people who choose to commute do so to afford the style of living they desire.

Like this comment
Posted by getting older
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2016 at 7:50 pm

Would have done a Like on oldman's post but the website has them disabled.

His post calls it, though. Think of all the money you're paying for the BART extension. Now try to use it (when it's done).

11 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2016 at 7:54 pm

It's a bond measure. The true cost includes interest payments to service that bond, just like a home mortgage. Depending on the terms of that bond, the cost to fully pay back that bond is often double the advertised value. Politicians NEVER mention that little detail when they are salivating over any prospects of 'new' funding, and rarely mention that that property tax add-on will be there for decades.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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