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San Diego City Council Committee Advances Proposals To Fight Homelessness

Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept....

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept. 19, 2017.

The San Diego City Council's Rules Committee Wednesday advanced two proposals for the Nov. 6 ballot intended to alleviate the city's homelessness crisis.

Council members Barbara Bry, Myrtle Cole and Chris Ward supported both measures, which will be considered by the full council in late July or early August, and Chris Cate and Mark Kersey voted against them.

One proposal involves a $900 million Housing Federation bond. Funded through a property tax increase, the bond would fund construction of an estimated 7,500 subsidized apartments for homeless and low-income San Diegans, with a focus on veterans, seniors, the disabled and families with children.

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Housing Federation officials estimate the bond would cost property owners roughly $19 per $100,000 of assessed value, or about $6 per month for the average San Diego homeowner.

Because it targets a specific purpose, the proposal requires two- thirds supermajority council support to make the November ballot, where it will also would need two-thirds voter support for passage.

City Councilman Chris Ward said the city should be open to exploring any means necessary for fixing the region's lack of affordable housing.

"We all know how deep and impacted our housing crisis is — not just for those experiencing homelessness, but also those who are maybe able to afford the rent but not much else," he said. "...I think we should really leave no options off the table until we know the totality of what we have to work with."

The committee also advanced a proposal from Councilman David Alvarez to increase the city's hotel tax by one cent in order to fund homelessness services.

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Projected revenues suggest increasing the tax from 10.5 cents to 11.5 cents would generate $130 million for homelessness programs over the next five years. The annual figure is close to what the city is currently spending on homelessness programs, Alvarez said.

He drew a link between the city's tourism industry and the necessity to provide services for its homeless residents.

"To me there's a very clear nexus between promoting San Diego as a destination and making sure we have programs in place to ensure we don't have outbreaks, such as hepatitis A, or other dangerous pathogens," Alvarez said.

As a general tax increase, the proposal would only need majority voter approval. A companion item on the ballot would ask voters whether the city should use revenue to address homelessness.

"We know the public supports the city allocating more funding to increasing programs that get people off the street — we just need a proposal to pay for it," Alvarez said. "This is the most straightforward and transparent. It probably has the best opportunity to be approved by voters."

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