$20 billion in new funding for Bay Area housing will be on November ballot – The Oaklandside

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Bay Area voters will get to decide on a first-of-its kind housing bond  in November.

Officials from the Bay Area’s counties and major cities voted unanimously on Wednesday to put a $20 billion regional general obligation bond on the Nov. 5 ballot. If passed by voters, the measure would distribute the sizable chunk of change for affordable housing construction and preservation among nine counties. 

Alameda County would receive $2 billion. The city of Oakland would get over $720 million. That’s twice the amount dedicated to housing by the city’s Measure U which, when it passed in 2022, created the single largest source of affordable housing funds the city had ever seen. 

“Today we made history by prioritizing the building of more housing for working people across the Bay Area,” said Mayor Sheng Thao in a statement Wednesday. Thao is Oakland’s representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which has the same members as the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, the joint government agency behind the housing bond plan.

Thao said Oakland’s allotment would enable the city to build and preserve around 5,000 units of affordable housing. From one view, that’s a substantial number for a city with an estimated 5,490 unhoused people. From another, it’s a drop in the bucket for a city required by the state to plan for 26,000 new homes by 2031. Overall, it’s expected to contribute to 70,000 homes across the Bay Area.

For many months leading up to the decision, officials were weighing the option of going with a $10 billion bond versus $20 billion, ultimately choosing the much higher amount. 

“The Bay Area is facing the most significant housing crisis in the region’s history because as a region, it has failed to produce enough housing at all income levels, preserve affordable housing, protect existing residents from displacement, provide adequate housing at all income levels in close proximity to jobs, and address the housing issue regionally,” members of the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority board explained in the legislation advancing the bond measure. .

Two-thirds of all voters will need to approve the bond for it to pass. 

However, another item on the November ballot, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, asks voters throughout the state to drop the threshold for passing affordable housing and infrastructure bonds to 55%. If that statewide measure passes, the new rules would apply immediately, and the regional housing bond would only need 55% of the vote to pass, instead of two-thirds.

A poll conducted by the finance authority found that 74% of residents in the Bay Area are worried about their friends and family being able to afford living here. But that concern may not translate into an appetite for a new bond. The nine-county region deciding on this measure includes a diverse range of voters with different perspectives on housing and taxes. For example, in the East Bay, Oakland voters approved a local housing bond in 2022 while residents next door in Berkeley rejected theirs.

The Authority estimates that property owners would be taxed at an average rate of $19 per $1000,000 in assessed property value, to fund the bonds. That means if your home is assessed at $700,000, you’d be taxed, on average, about $130 a year. The tax is expected to be collected for the next 50 or so years.

The revenue from the measure would be distributed among counties proportional to their respective tax contributions. However, four cities—Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Napa—would each receive an additional direct allotment because they each hold more than 30% of their county’s “low-income housing need.” Twenty percent of the funds, or $4 billion, would be used to launch a new regional program funding housing.

Each city and county receiving the funds must spend at least 52% of the money on building new low-income housing, and at least 15% on preserving existing affordable homes.

Elected officials, government staffers, and affordable housing developers are banking on the passage of the bond. It comes at a time when local governments are facing gaping deficits and barriers to building homes. Supporters say the measure is a collective stab at a problem that knows no borders. 

Some voters have already expressed wariness. “Why would we increase taxes on elderly Black homeowners on a fixed income?” said David Peters, who leads the Black Liberation Walking Tour in West Oakland, on Twitter. He said higher-income renters should help address the housing crisis.

All property owners in the Bay Area would be taxed to fund the bond, without any exemptions based on income. 

Peters is on the board of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit housing developer, which as an organization has voiced support for the bond’s passage. Janelle Chan, the organization’s CEO, said EBALDC has 12 projects encompassing 1,100 housing units ready to go if they get financed.

“We can put the [bond] funds immediately to use to respond to our housing crisis,” Chan wrote in a letter to the Finance Authority before the vote. 

If the measure passes, an oversight committee will be established and independent audits will be conducted annually. The nine counties voting on the bond measure are Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma.

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