Bay Area voters to decide on $20B bond to pay for affordable housing

Area housing finance authority puts property tax measure on the November ballot

Bay Area Voters to Decide on $20B Affordable Housing Bond
Bay Area Housing Finance Authority's Kate Hartley (Getty)

Voters across the Bay Area will get to vote this fall on a $20 billion bond measure that would raise property taxes to help pay for affordable homes.

The Bay Area Housing Finance Authority voted to put the bond measure on the November ballot to fund new affordable housing projects, buy homes to make them affordable and support housing-related infrastructure, the San Francisco Standard reported.

The move comes as tens of thousands of proposed affordable homes are stuck in limbo for lack of financing as state and federal funds dry up, banks lend less,and more cities face budget deficits. 

The bond would be funded by property tax increases, with an estimated tax of $19 per $100,000 of assessed value, which means $190 per year for a home assessed at $1 million. 

If voters approve what is essentially a loan to the nine-county region of $20 billion, each city would receive a cut based on how much it pays in taxes.  San Francisco would get about $2.4 billion to invest, while Oakland would get more than $720 million. 

The funds would be awarded in the form of low-cost loans.

The housing finance authority estimates that paying off the loan would, with interest, add up to nearly $50 billion. The mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland all backed the bond measure. 

“We’re very intent on setting up a successful public interest mortgage lending system so that we are self-sustaining,” said Kate Hartley, director for the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, at the hearing late last month.

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Housing bonds normally require a two-thirds majority approval to pass. But lawmakers want to lower that threshold with a constitutional amendment measure known as ACA 1.

To help the bond measure to victory, lawmakers will add the separate constitutional amendment that would lower the bar for approval to 55 percent. If voters pass ACA 1, it would apply to any bond concurrently on the ballot. 

There are 433 affordable housing developments in pre-development across the region that would provide 40,896 new affordable homes — if completed, according to the authority.

But convincing voters that a tax hike is the solution is no easy task, according to the Standard.

Proposition 1, a statewide $6.4 billion mental health initiative championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this year, passed by a slim 25,000 votes.

Matt Schwartz, CEO of the California Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that helps government and nonprofit housing agencies, told The Standard that he views the $20 billion bond as a lifeline as the state cuts housing resources.

“If you need or care about affordable housing, everything rests on this,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “The state clearly isn’t coming to the rescue.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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