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:
- All human beings are endowed with an intrinsic dignity that calls forth our respect and care.
- Safe and secure housing is a necessity to preserve and protect human life and dignity; it is a right, not a privilege.
- 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