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San Diego Affordable Housing Advocates Eyeing 2020 Ballot

August 14, 2018 1:36 p.m.

San Diego Affordable Housing Advocates Eyeing 2020 Ballot


Stephen Russell, executive director, San Diego Housing Federation

Related Story: San Diego Affordable Housing Advocates Eyeing 2020 Ballot


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

when the convention center expansion proposal failed to get enough signatures and San Diego City Council votes to have a place on the November ballot a new revenue source for homeless services went down with it. The hotel tax increase was expected to generate two billion dollars over 40 years for homeless services and permanent housing. To add insult to injury the San Diego Housing Federation pulled its plans to submit a low income housing bond in what looked like a very crowded November ballot. Now there won't be any homeless funding measures placed before San Diego voters until 2020. But San Diego Housing Federation is already laying plans for the next big election. Joining me is Stephen Russell executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation. Stephen welcome. Thank you for having me Maureen. What's your reaction to this surprising failure of the convention center expansion ballot measure.

Well certainly disappointing given that the ballot was cleared to make way for this and that we now won't have a local revenue measure on the ballot until MacNutt until 2020 although it's important to recognize that there will be two statewide measures props one and two that will provide direct funding for homelessness and for affordable housing and we would encourage certainly San Diego to vote on that so that we can ultimately get a share of those state revenues.

There was some speculation that the Housing Federation was pressured to pull your nine hundred million dollar bond proposal from the November ballot because of the mayor's convention center plan. Did you feel that pressure.

I would say there is a finite ability for this community to fund raise the bandwidth for communicating is expensive the more people crowd in there and so I would say that as you know clearly all of those factors played into our decision to hold off until what we saw is a much more successful year in 2020.

Q Do you regret doing that now.

I'm not sure that we would have necessarily had the path to victory. We've looked at a lot of numbers. It's challenging. Two thirds is a very steep threshold to meet and given some of the other things that were still on the ballot that had nothing to do with housing specifically the gas tax which you know is a very short sighted approach to me that may well drive a lot of Antitax advocates to the polls creates another stiff headwind for for measures like ours.

So how is your bond proposal that you you pulled from the ballot how was that different from what the mayor was proposing.

Well what we were proposing was untired was all about homelessness and affordable housing that would've provided a revenue stream of 900 million dollars over multiple years that would have been leveraged three and four times over and we would have produced somewhere between five and 10000 units. The target was to produce just in the area of homelessness 2500 permanent supportive housing units which is equal to the number of individuals who qualify for that today. That would have been in addition to 2500 units for seniors veterans people living with disabilities. So that's a population that might well be homeless or housing insecure and another 2500 units for low wage working families so folks who are struggling to get by and provide fundamental services that are that our communities need. All of the funds were intended to be used for capital dollars only so for sticks and bricks construction and that distinguishes it from I think the convention center which was a much more modest amount of money and really very broadly defined. I won't even say defined was very broadly set aside for the cause of homelessness without much definition.

Now you mentioned that there are state propositions coming up that voters can vote on for homeless additional homeless funds but says there is no additional city funding for homeless services or housing on the ballot. Do we run the risk of losing state funds.

Most definitely. I mean one of the key reasons for doing this was that we would want to have local match because when we get local dollars we typically match them with private capital and state funds three four to one. So in the first years of those new programs assuming Propst want to pass we will be at a regional disadvantage. We can make up for that there's certainly a role for the county to step in with its vast reserves could be buying land could be making investments. I mean I give kudos to Ron Roberts for you for convincing his colleagues to set aside 25 million this year. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to the need we are talking about generating maybe 150 million a year for six years. So 25 million about the county should be multiplied six times over and we could make up any loss of time in these two years we're waiting to pass a measure could be made up with good planning land acquisition and maybe some policy recommendations that would reduce the barriers to producing housing in general.

Now you are looking forward to 2020. You're looking forward to putting something on the ballot. How are you approaching the project now will there be changes in the measure you'd planned for this year.

Well I think it's important to take this time and really get a comprehensive look at all of our assumptions. We had polled originally both the county and the city to see where there's a willingness to support such a measure. The county was close but not within the range of where we thought it was going to be successful another year or two years from now we may well see more support. We pulled the city initially in a year ago in May. We saw 67 percent support for such a measure by November of this past year we saw 73 percent supporting it. So if the county has moved in any similar way whatsoever we will certainly poll the county but the county has moved in a positive direction there's lots of reasons to look at a regional rather than simply a city measure.

So this may be a county wide measure that you'd put on in 2020.

It's entirely possible based on the research we do we need to aim for success but also recognize that housing is not a city by city market it is truly a regional market and so we would want to look at possibly we could go bigger with a lesser burden on any of the taxpayers if we went county wide.

And would you move forward in terms of a citizens initiative thinking that perhaps that would have a lower level of approval 50 plus one.

Well I've never personally ascribed to that legal theory that the upline decision that would allow for a lower threshold and certainly I think by 2020 there will either be case law or a real challenge that will establish whether or not that is the case. So we'll be watching that but we're certainly mindful of the fact that two thirds is the threshold we're probably going to be looking at.

You mentioned that the county could go into its resources to find money to acquire land and set the groundwork for housing projects to come. What else do you think that the city and county can do in the next two years to maybe decrease homelessness and keep people off the streets.

Well the challenge ultimately is that there isn't enough housing so even folks who have housing vouchers are not able to necessarily find a place. Sometimes they expire while they're holding them. Supply is a critical issue. And so whereas it would be helpful to have rapid rehousing where we can maybe help people stay in place help buffer them against increases in rent unless we increase the supply of housing we are ultimately fighting a losing battle.

We've got to focus on the end to homelessness is a home and I've been speaking with Stephen Russell executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation. Stephen thank you. Thank you Marie.