Editorial: Responding to criticism of the empty house tax

Since the original people who proposed San Jose look at the empty house tax, we wanted to respond to Bob Stadler’s quick critique of the idea.

To start, Measure E is indeed an important way to finance affordable housing in San Jose. We publicly and enthusiastically supported the measure when it was put on the ballot.

We’re guessing that yes, the empty house tax wouldn’t generate as much revenue as Measure E. But that’s not the point.

In policy making, we don’t say, “Hey, this policy works really well to address a big problem, so let’s not look at other policies that can help as well.”

Especially with regard to the housing crisis and homelessness – multifaceted public policy issues, which have been around for a long time and are worse today – policy solutions are not as simple as some claim. They are not either/or proposals. They are often “all of the above”.

In fact, our original proposal was very modest. It was up to city officials to study the empty house tax – how it would work, how the revenue would be spent, etc. Part of the job of good policy is to understand how an idea works and its effects. We don’t have this information yet, nor does the city.

However, there are breadcrumbs we can follow. Other cities have implemented this policy, and they have good data on its positive effects. Our presentation in May 2019 provided some of that evidence from Vancouver, Canada, that we personally collected as community advocates. We encourage others to do the same. After all, if you’re going to go fishing, you might want to make sure you shoot first.

Another missing point: It’s not the number of empty homes in San Jose relative to other cities that counts, but the extent of the housing shortage here. Another overlooked fact: There are thousands upon thousands of homes in San Jose that are empty out there—except for those that have been renovated or rented during parts of the year.

People in the field of economic development like Bob Steedler know that it takes a lot of time and money to get any new affordable housing project built in our area.

Meanwhile, if there are already more than 4,000 homes vacant for no good reason, imagine if we could get a tenth of that total – 400 homes – back on the market for rent within a year. This is much cheaper than raising millions of dollars in financing and waiting half a decade to open 400 new homes.

Here’s another key component of the vacant house tax – if you have a home that you can live in or rent out, you don’t have to. You can pay the fee. Or you can rent out your house and voila, no tax! How many of us can choose to pay sales tax, property or income tax?

If the money from the tax goes to increase or maintain affordable housing as in other cities, the tax addresses the same problem either way. That’s the beauty of the empty house tax. Whether the landlords paid it or not, the community could be in a better position.

While 6,700 San Josefs are homeless, if you had the luxury of sitting in an empty home you own in a market like Silicon Valley where the average home price is $1.7 million – isn’t that the least you can do to contribute to solving the problem of everyone’s problem? to see fixed?

In addition to the empty house tax, there is a bigger problem that worries us. A dangerous tide has been rising in this country for years as assets – including valuable and valuable homes – are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few and the wealthy. This concentration is leading to a shrinking of the American middle class and an expansion of the lower class. It’s happening here in San Jose, too.

The biggest contributor to the growing problem is private companies snatching away homes that were once the domain of singles in single family homes. With their resources, these big companies can certainly keep homes off the market or raise prices using their huge economic power.

What brings these issues together – who owns the housing and what they do with it – is inequality of wealth and shared prosperity. We all want a society in which everyone can live. This is a California dream. We achieve this by ensuring that all of our neighbors have affordable homes. Let’s continue to work together to take the time and energy to study and pursue policies that do just that.

Huy Tran and Alex Shoor are housing advocates and sit on the San Jose Housing and Community Development Committee. They wrote this as individuals and not as commissioners or on behalf of the committee.

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