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Affordable Housing Bond Set For San Diego's November Ballot

The construction site for an affordable senior housing complex in North Park is seen here, May 11, 2017.
Andrew Bowen
The construction site for an affordable senior housing complex in North Park is seen here, May 11, 2017.

San Diego voters will have the chance to vote on a bond measure to raise $900 million for affordable housing, after City Council members voted Tuesday to place the measure on the November ballot.

If passed by a two-thirds majority of city voters, the measure would help fund construction of roughly 7,500 new affordable homes for low-income households. The bonds would be paid off through a property tax increase.

Affordable Housing Bond Set For San Diego's November Ballot
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Supporters argue that San Diego cannot begin to seriously address its homelessness crisis without raising significantly more local funding for affordable and permanent supportive housing.

The bond measure advanced with the support of the council's six Democrats: Barbara Bry, Jen Campbell, Chris Ward, Monica Montgomery, Vivian Moreno and Georgette Gomez. Ward, who sponsored the measure, said failure to approve more local revenue for affordable housing would cause the city's homelessness crisis to grow worse.

"We have to work harder," Ward said. "We have to find new resources to really make a huge difference."

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The bond measure's future was far from certain prior to Tuesday, given the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that tax increases tend to fare poorly during recessions. Bry, who is running for mayor in the November election, had also previously stated she may not support the bond measure.

But Bry said her support for placing the measure on the ballot should not be read as an endorsement of the measure itself.

"I will vote yes today to allow this measure to be placed before the voters so that they can decide whether they want to tax themselves to pay for this," Bry said.

Councilmembers Chris Cate and Scott Sherman, both Republicans, and Councilmember Mark Kersey, an independent, voted against placing the measure on the ballot.

Kersey said while he thought the measure had improved since its original conception several years ago, he still thought the cost of building affordable housing was too high to merit new local tax dollars.

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The exact amount of the tax increase is expected to start at around $3 for every $100,000 of a property's taxable value. That rate would gradually increase as the city issues more bonds, potentially reaching around $21 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The council also voted 5-4 Tuesday to reject a ballot measure to publicly fund municipal elections. The proposed measure, known as the San Diego Clean Elections Ordinance, would have required city appropriations of $4 per city resident — approximately $5.7 million in 2019 data. A portion of that funding would go toward each candidate running in city elections.

Impassioned speeches from councilmembers on both sides of the issue brought up the role of democracy and the eventual cost of the undertaking, with the latter issue carrying the day.

"This costs much more than a few dollars a year,'' Campbell said. "We can't afford to pay for it the way it is written now."

Sherman, Cate, Kersey and Bry joined Campbell in rejecting the proposed ballot measure.

City New Service contributed to this report.