Opinion: Prop. M a Good Step Toward Easing Housing Crisis

Yes on Proposition M

I have been a parish priest in San Francisco for 20 years.  I have observed many changes in our City during this time, but perhaps the most dispiriting has been the growing sense of frustration and hopelessness regarding the affordable housing crisis.  

Right now, I’m struggling to get support for an 84-year-old member of my congregation. Maggie worked until the COVID-19 Pandemic forced her to stop.  She worked well past retirement age because her social security of $2,000 per month didn’t provide enough to live on after she paid her $1,800 per month rent. Now she is depleting her savings and pandemic subsidies and is at risk of eviction. She is no longer able to work. No 84-year-old should end up on the street.  Ever.  But this is the reality in San Francisco today.

A cynical malaise has settled over our City. We treat housing inequity as if it were an unsolvable problem, a natural disaster over which we have no control. Our housing crisis is not a natural disaster. It is a foreseeable outcome based on the decisions of voters, elected leaders and economic factors. We created this crisis, and we can solve it.  Rather than ignore the problem or blame its victims, we can take responsibility for addressing it through civic engagement. This is a moral imperative based on three simple principles:

  1. All human beings are endowed with an intrinsic dignity that calls forth our respect and care.
  2. Safe and secure housing is a necessity to preserve and protect human life and dignity; it is a right, not a privilege.  
  3. We have a collective obligation to create and maintain the conditions of justice and equity that protect this right. 

There is a rabbinic saying that my Jewish colleagues often quote, “It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to neglect it.” There are many pieces to the affordable housing crisis, and it will require a variety of strategies to remedy. No one person or single policy will solve the whole problem. We will not finish the work today or tomorrow. But we are not free to neglect it. We do what we can to make a positive difference in people’s lives, bend the arc of the universe a little bit closer toward justice and celebrate incremental victories. 

This is why Faith in Action Bay Area, an interfaith, multicultural, and multi-class collaboration of more than 100 congregations and community organizations, endorses Proposition M:  The Empty Homes Tax. A recent City Budget and Legislative Analyst’s (BLA) report found that there are some 40,000 vacant housing units in San Francisco, and approximately 8,000 of them – the fastest growing segment of vacant units – are “sold but not occupied.” This means that wealthy investors are buying properties as an investment, rather than as homes, squeezing the housing market and driving up costs.  

Based on similar policies implemented successfully in other global cities, such as Vancouver and Paris, Prop. M will impose a tax on vacant properties containing three or more units. This is a targeted tax to incentivize occupancy of these vacant units. The BLA estimates that this tax would move as many as 4,500 units back into the market for sale or rent as homes and generate some $38 million annually to be split between rental subsidies for seniors and low-income families, and a new city program to buy and renovate vacant properties as affordable housing. 

Prop. M will not solve the affordable housing crisis entirely. But it can prevent thousands of San Franciscans, like Maggie, from becoming homeless. And it can relieve some of the pressure driving up the cost of the housing market as a whole. It is a proven policy, simply requiring those wealthy enough to park capital in empty housing stock to pay their fair share.  

San Francisco, we can do this, and it is the right thing to do. We may not finish the work, but we can do our part. Let’s do it for our neighbors, like Maggie.  

The Rev. John Kirkley


St. James Episcopal Church, San Francisco

4 replies »

  1. The above article contains false information that the Prop M tax would be applied to vacant properties containing 3 or more units. It would be actually applied to any owner of a single unit occupied for less than 183 days in a year, if the unit is located in a building with 3 or more units. You don’t need to own a building with 3 units to be subject to this tax, but only one unit in a condo building. People own a condo which they occupy part of the year for personal reasons (on/off worksite, family reasons, retirement-related reasons) that have nothing whatsoever to do with speculation, and a property that is regularly occupied for part of the year (say, 120 days) is NOT vacant as this Prop M tries to classify it. This tax may raise about $40 million max, while the City has already allocated $890,000,000 of taxpayer money for affordable housing + homeless services (more than $600 million of it for homeless services) just for this upcoming fiscal year! That is an enormous amount, and no new taxes should be imposed until this enormous, already existing, tax collection is indeed used to help with housing in the City. Prop M is a step towards governmental takeover of private property in SF – please vote NO on Prop M if you care about living in a free society, and if you care to retain control of your own home! Please read the text of the actual Prop M (available on the City website), and educate yourself about what you are voting for – do not blindly follow the Socialist political propaganda.


  2. Prop M is a Trojan Horse. If approved, the Board of Supervisors will have the power to include single family homes and duplexes, to change the amount of the tax, to change the number of days unoccupied that define “ vacancy “ and more. As the owner of a small fourplex, that was built as a single family home, I don’t need city government telling me how to use my property. We have an adult child living in one unit , and relatives of owners are not considered “ bona fide” tenants under this legislation, the apartment is presumed to be vacant under this measure. This will affect condos in buildings over 2 units as well. Keep private property private, vote No on M , M for misleading.


  3. And when the Reverend above (or anyone else) tells you that Prop M ” will impose a tax on vacant properties containing three or more units” (suggesting that this tax targets only or “primarily” large developers who allegedly hold a large % of the SF housing stock empty for profit), please just go to the primary source, the ACTUAL text of Prop M to see that what they are telling you is not true, that a small owner of a single condo is targeted just the same.

    Please go to this link to actually read the Prop M:


    Scroll down to Prop M, and click on the text of it. It is extremely densely written, and difficult to read even for a lawyer, let alone for an ordinary voter without legal background. But if you read very carefully, you might be able to understand some of it.

    First to address the misinformation given by the Reverend in the above article, in page 3 of the text of the Prop M, Sec. 2953. Imposition of tax (a), the City would impose the annual empty home tax on EACH PERSON THAT OWNS A RESIDENTIAL UNIT for keeping that residential unit vacant. Then in page 5 of this same section Sec. 2953 (d), a person that owns any residential unit in a building with two or fewer residential units shall be exempt from the empty homes tax.

    So, this is not a tax on vacant properties which contain three or more units, but a tax on a single condo (in a building with three or more units) that is “vacant” for 183 days or more in a year (the text defines various exemptions from vacancy, the main ones being the principal residence of the owner, a unit leased to a tenant who is not a first-degree relative or a transient visitor, or a unit under construction. The text does not define what “occupied” (as opposed to vacant) means, so the designation of what is “occupied” could be applied or changed in unknown ways – please read on about that).

    In page 6 of the text of Prop M, Sec. 2961. The Board of Supervisors may amend this Article… by a two-thirds vote and without a vote of the people…

    What does this mean? To me, it means that, by voting for Prop M, you do not know what you are voting for, ie, you are voting to approve anything that the BoS decides to add or modify in this tax. You are also agreeing to have no future right to vote for any such modifications of this tax. The currently listed exemptions from the tax may be abolished, the amount of the tax (which is already proposed to be absurdly high for the smallest properties) may increase without limit – all without vote of the people, only by 2/3 vote of the BoS. If you love what the BoS has been doing in the context of the multi-billion city budget for several years, and if you are satisfied with their performance of civic tasks so far, go ahead, give them control of your property :).

    Lastly, I have to say that I am not religious. I was driven out of religion by speeches such as given above by the Reverend. No thanks, I put my trust in those who offer practical solutions to house people down of their luck with the existing annual $890 million city budget allocated for such solutions, not in those who tell heart-wrenching stories aiming to convince you that you, the homeowner, have somehow created all the housing misfortunes in this city, and you, the homeowner, somehow deserve to have your money & property taken from you in order to generate housing solutions for which more than a sufficient city budget already exists – so therefore you, the homeowner, should vote for the Prop M, ie, vote against your own vital interests! Yeah right.


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