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should cities tax empty homes?

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From San Francisco to Santa Cruz, Berkeley to Napa, dissatisfied politicians and residents of California’s housing crisis are looking to the globally popular tool of taxing vacant homes.

The details of the recently proposed housing vacancy tax vary, but we’re already heading for the November vote in Santa Cruz in San Francisco and Beachtown.Berkeley, Napa, Los Angeles, and the Monterey Peninsula region Discuss similar measures.

This effort is supported by tenant advocates and long-time homeowners who are worried about affordability, but many realtors have opposed and asked questions from groups focused on new home development. I have received it.With ballot campaign Strengthen eviction rules With Auckland Promote housing approval In San Francisco, the battle for empty housing taxes is one of several reform efforts that arose from the pandemic housing turmoil.

For voters who have already weathered Confusing rent relief program, Clash over eviction ban Widely used Housing bid war, This measure tests how resident is trying to change the lucrative but increasingly unequal housing market.It’s all happening as inflation soars and Bay Area home prices soar. Start exemption For the first time in my recent memory.

“There is this incredible need for housing,” said Sarah Karlinsky, senior adviser to the regional city planning group SPUR. “People are looking at different ways to create new homes or bring existing homes to market in an attempt to get the most out of what we have.”

In San Francisco, campaign participants led by District 5 supervisor Dean Preston are waiting for official ballot certification in November. Taxes to keep housing units free The first year will range from $ 2,500 to $ 5,000, depending on the size of the unit. It will take effect in 2024 and will apply to owners of buildings with more than three units vacant for more than 182 days a year, up to $ 20,000 in later years.

Vacant single-family homes and duplexes are exempt — a move that diverges from other cities and confuses some home analysts, but could expand campaign support from homeowners. That’s because Preston said his target was the “real estate speculator” who runs the large-scale, high-end downtown developments he’s been doing repeatedly. Tied up Procedural movement or Voted against Building for 495 units of downtown development.

Recently Data about investors buying homes Shows that the Bay Area is less targeted than more affordable markets like Atlanta and much of the Midwest. nevertheless, City report earlier this year Vacancy taxes are estimated to bring about 4,500 homes back to the market and generate up to $ 38 million annually in affordable homes.

“Long-term vacancies undermine the kind of progress we want to see in revitalizing more homes,” Preston said. “Vacancy taxes do not affect the conversation about the amount of housing we build.”

The Santa Claus empty property tax, Approved by the city council in the fall elections in late June are $ 6,000 in homes, condominiums or town homes that have been vacant for more than eight months each year, except for ancillary homes where the main home is occupied. Tax at a tax rate of $ 3,000. ..

Both San Francisco and Santa Claus measures include short-term vacancy exemptions or changes, such as real estate owners renovating or in the process of finding new tenants, and owners facing financial difficulties. included.

“We want the community to feel. To make that happen, people need to be at home,” said Cyndi Dawson, manager of the Yes on Empty Home Tax Santa Cruz campaign. “This is about neighbors who want more neighbors.”

Various California cities considering new vacancy taxes — large and small job centers and tourist destinations swelling with remote workers — are the first to evaluate additional charges for vacant property owners. It’s far from a great place.

In Vancouver, about 2,000 homes have returned to the market in two years, with new affordable homes generating $ 21.3 million in revenue in 2019, but overall rents continue to rise. increase. A recent analysis of US vacancy rates and homelessness by researchers at the University of Washington also attributed the fight against the homeless in San Francisco to a combination of high rent and already relatively low rent vacancy.

While many factors are driving affordability across California, housing analysts are increasingly focusing on core dynamics: the inflexibility to cope with rapid growth. According to the report, the Bay Area’s population has increased by about 1 million since 2000. 2021 SPUR report. However, between 2011 and 2017, the region added 658,000 jobs and only 140,000 homes. This is a mismatch that analysts say exacerbates inequality.

“First and foremost, we need to produce far more homes at all income levels, and we need to do that throughout the Bay Area,” says Carlinsky. “We have been chronically reducing housing production for decades, but now we are enjoying the consequences of terrible housing policies.”

SPUR has not yet taken a position on San Francisco tax ballot measures, but Carlinsky said such measures are unlikely to have a direct impact on prices, but are “crafted”. “If so, it could help discourage speculation, he said.

Vacancy calculation is not as easy as it looks, so part of the challenge for voters is understanding the scope of the problem. Earlier this year, the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst Office used 2019 census data to produce a vacancy report at Preston’s request. We have identified 40,458 vacant homes, which is about 10% of the city’s total homes. This includes temporary reasons such as more than 7,200 rental properties and 2,400 rented but currently vacant.

In the book “Homelessness is a housing problem” Researchers at the University of Washington say San Francisco’s rent vacancy rate will be close to 3.9% in 2017 if adjusted to show only vacancy that “certain renters may actually be exposed”. Insist.

“It’s not just a shortage of low-income housing, it’s an overall shortage of housing,” the author writes.

But if you’re already against the new vacancy tax, the problem isn’t at the root of the housing crisis, but about the private property rights of the owners who are benefiting from the scheme.

“Every year, asking all homeowners to prove they’re in a good home is a privacy breach,” homeowners and business group Santa Cruz Together opponents claim on their website. increase.

With anti-tax Point of the story The group, distributed by a local realtor, argues that provisions that allow “audits” during pending home sales can also “difficult to sell homes.” This is what Dawson calls “wrong information.” Compared to the big challenge of keeping teachers, restaurant workers, and other low-income earners in the community, it’s inferior.

“We live in these really amazing and highly desirable places, and we’ve seen prices continue to skyrocket,” Dawson said. “What are you going to do about this?”

Lauren Heppler (she / she) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] twitter: @LAHepler

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