I moved to San Francisco three years ago because I thought it was the place where I could most effectively work to combat the Prison-Industrial Complex. I am a teacher at the school inside Juvenile Hall, Woodside Learning Center, where I teach English and drama. In addition, on Friday nights I teach meditation in one of the women’s pods at the County Jail. I love this work. It consumes me, and I put every ounce of my energy into helping my students empower themselves through education and mindfulness. For the past three years, my husband and I have lived in a cramped economy studio, and our gratitude causes us to celebrate everyday that we are lucky enough to have roof over our heads in a city like San Francisco, where so many people care about social justice. Yet a call to motherhood and family has started to rumble somewhere inside me, but I try to ignore it because I simply don’t know if it would be appropriate to raise a child inside this tiny room. The lack of affordable housing makes me question whether or not I will be able to stay in this city forever, and whether ultimately I will have to make a choice between family and San Francisco.
In November, San Francisco can seize the opportunity to take action against the affordable housing crisis that threatens to diminish the diversity and character of a city rapidly undergoing gentrification with its concomitant massive exodus of minorities, families, low-income citizens, and seniors. Proposition B is a charter amendment, which will set aside from collected property taxes 2.5¢ for every $100 in assessed property value in order to provide funding in a variety of housing areas in desperate need of attention.
Proposition B will not raise taxes. Rather, the money will come from a budget set-aside wherein $33 million for 15 years will be allocated from the budget in order to address issues such as the creation of affordable housing, neighborhood preservation, eviction defense, and repairs to public housing. The concept of mandating a percentage of the budget to maintain and enhance public services is not novel to San Francisco. Set-asides in the City budget currently exist for public services such as the San Francisco Symphony, MUNI, police, and education.
In order to protect the ever-dwindling funds allocated to public housing, Proposition B contains a “baseline” budget, which ensures that current services cannot be further slashed in order to pay for the set-aside. The text of Proposition B states: “To this end, in any of the 15 years during with the City must set aside funds under this Section, the City may not reduce the funding for affordable housing support, …for shelters, drop-in centers, emergency housing (such as domestic violence centers), transitional housing and assistance to first time homeowners.”
Unfortunately, the current process of affordable funding allocation is a complex and disjointed process that does not allow the public a say in how decisions pertaining to housing play out. In fact, currently, there is no budget process set up to negotiate the way funds are disbursed. This is a consequence of the fact that funds are derived almost haphazardly from various sources at Federal, state, and local levels, with the majority of the money coming from three sources: the Health Department, the Department of Social Services, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing. The Housing Justice Coalition describes this flawed process:
“…No single city office or department is required to co-ordinate let alone make a single report on what the programs are funded or how well they are working. The public would have to attend at least three sets of budget hearings before each department commission and then three sets of hearing at the Board of Supervisors to ‘track’ affordable housing spending.”
Indeed, one of the most pertinent aspects of Prop B is that it would do away with the current maze which one must navigate to track the process. Rather, Prop B will put the Mayor’s Office of Housing in charge of a single budget, open for public debate at hearings where the public will able to speak up and help to shape the outcome of the proposals.
Groups with paid opposition to Proposition B in the upcoming election booklet include the Republican Party, the San Francisco Apartment Association, Plan C, the Professional Property Management Association of San Francisco, and the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. The Apartment Association makes an ironic claim, falsely asserting that Prop B will take money away from programs supporting parks and education, when they state, “Imagine going to the library and not having reading programs for our kids or visiting the park only to find the buffalo gone.” Nice attempt to chip away at our sentiments, but the parks and libraries are already protected by set-asides just like the one proposed in B. Perhaps the real concern for the Apartment Association is that if housing in San Francisco is controlled and made affordable, then greedy apartment owners may not be able to continue pushing people out of their homes through skyrocketing rent prices.
In the Republican Party’s paid statement they argue that Proposition B, “…does not make living in San Francisco more affordable… this one will rob the General Fund of $88 million, making tax increases or reductions in existing services inevitable.”
Julie Leadbetter, from the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center responds, “That argument assumes that our budget is not growing. The set aside is tied to the fastest growing segment of the budget.” Proposition B identifies the “annual property tax levy” as the source of Prop B funding.
Proposition B is supported by over 85 community leaders, organizations, service providers, and coalitions, including nine members of the Board of Supervisors. As November 4 draws closer, San Franciscans need to ask ourselves how the issue of affordable housing in San Francisco will impact the city not only today, but 15 years from now. The set-aside will help to ensure that San Francisco remains the eclectic, diverse, and socially conscious city that brought many of us to its streets. Prop B will help to halt the current exodus, and allow a diverse citizenry to remain in this city, living in dignity. Prop B may just be my only hope to be able to continue my work in the city while raising a family.