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SF’s unexpected property tax ‘windfall’ goes to housing, homeless programs

Battle over bonus cash ends in boost to mayor’s housing agenda

The dome of SF City Hall on a clear day. Photo by PUMPZA/Shutterstock

On Thursday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced she has signed off on $273 million in city spending that includes much of an unexpected budget “windfall” that City Hall wrangled over for months, putting the money mostly toward housing goals and homeless programs.

Among the allocations announced:

  • $40 million for anti-eviction measures
  • $42.5 million “to complete construction of a homeless housing site”
  • $9 million for public housing upgrades
  • $14 million to buy land for affordable housing, and $15 million for a new homeless navigation center

The signing marks the end of months of budget brinksmanship that started in late 2018, when San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield announced that the city’s budget ended up with an extra $415 million in the form of “newly available property tax revenue.”

As the Mayor’s Office’s announcement points out, the city charter demanded that $230 million of the unexpected boon be put into “reserve funds, transportation, public schools, libraries, children and family programming,” and, of all things, “tree maintenance.”

That left City Hall to argue over what to do with the remaining $185 million, with movers like Supervisor Matt Haney stumping to put more of the money toward teacher salaries in the city, while Breed preferred prioritizing housing issues.

In fact, the mayor put out a statement hailing what the money could do for housing within hours of Rosenfield’s announcement, proclaiming:

With this funding we can invest in affordable housing, continue to expand our shelter capacity under my plan to add 1,000 new shelter beds, increase mental health and substance use treatment beds and programs, and create more immediate housing opportunities through programs like small sites acquisition and master-leasing properties for formerly homeless people.

This funding also can be directed towards our efforts to conduct a comprehensive performance review our existing homelessness programming.

Haney on the other hand argued that more of the money should be spent on schools, because the program that produced it—the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF)—is specifically designed for education spending.

The fund took in more than was mandated for spending on schools last year, resulting in the extra cash.

By February the jockeying over the money had resulted in a compromise, with some money set aside for raises for teachers’ salaries. Haney joined the rest of the city lawmakers in an unanimous vote on the current division.