While Davis has often rightly been accused of being reactive these days and losing its progressive fervor, under the leadership of Mayor Robb Davis there is one area where the city of Davis sits on the cutting edge – the possibility of using tax money to fund programs and housing for the homeless and for families.
The $50 parcel tax according to city staff could generate about $550,000 annually for homeless services, another $500,000 to $700,000 for affordable housing, and $100,000 to $350,000 for local public service programs.
As of right now, Davis stands alone as the only place where a city is considering using a new tax for social services and homeless issues. But if it happens, it will be a heavy lift, particularly with the city already looking at a more expensive separate $250 a year parcel tax for parks and roads.
The report notes, “Although not historically a service provided by the city, the City Council has identified a number of social service needs in the community that do not have adequate sources of funding.”
They write: “The Social Services Strategic Plan identifies three primary areas of concern: homelessness, affordable housing and adult day health care.”
Writes staff: “Homelessness is a growing problem, not just in Davis, but across the state, without an adequate local infrastructure in place. City staff and the city’s social services consultant have been working with local service providers, members of the business community and others to create a network of programming to address homelessness.”
We have been talking about the need for affordable housing extensively on the Vanguard. As we have noted, part of the problem is the loss of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) money.
Back in October, Robb Davis alluded to the fact that our shortage of affordable housing can be tied to two key factors. First, in the past the city built larger housing developments which enabled them to have relatively large dedicated sites to build large “a” affordable housing.
“Those days now largely are done,” he said. “We aren’t getting any large developments like that that lead to that kind of ability to create the affordable set aside inside.”
He also noted we need to keep talking about the disappearance of RDA funding and the $2 million a year that used to come from that. “The reason that’s important is that we do have this large stock of capital ‘a’ affordable housing that is at risk. It’s at risk because it’s just going to fall apart. And that’s probably our fault historically for not making sure that the amount of money that was being set aside for rehabilitation was built into the pricing of the development.
“We do need a revenue stream just to make sure we maintain some of the housing that’s aging now,” he said.
Staff notes that “recent state legislation will provide an ongoing funding source for affordable housing,” but they argue that “there is still a need for funding to assist with new affordable housing
projects and to rehabilitate existing affordable housing.”
The $500,000 to $750,000 proposed by staff doesn’t begin to replace the money lost from RDA, but it is a start.
However, some have argued this isn’t a traditional use of city resources.
The city staff did not help, writing, “Although not historically a service provided by the city, the City Council has identified a number of social service needs in the community that do not have adequate sources of funding.”
Elaine Roberts Musser on Tuesday added, “Social services are the purview of the county.”
She said, “I am not in favor of allowing the county to abdicate its responsibilities because the city has decided to subject its citizens to double taxation for such services. In my opinion, a social services tax incorporated into a more comprehensive transportation parks maintenance parcel tax will ultimately be the poison pill that dooms any such revenue measure.”
But people want the city to be able to address the homeless issue and they want to see projects provide us with affordable housing, and this is a funding mechanism that can address both concerns.
Plus, as Robb Davis responded, this has been a traditional use of money.
“Not a core city service?” he asked. “Really, we’ve never been funding affordable housing in this community for the last 30 years? We didn’t build our affordable housing on RDA?
“There was a time when we considered that core to our identity, and then the state took it away,” he said. “Because the state took RDA away, does that mean that we’re no longer committed to affordable?”
He said, “I’m not buying that.” He added that “we’ve had an inclusionary housing ordinance for a long time. We used that money to create hundreds of units of permanently affordable housing here and that money is gone forever.”
He argued that a portion of that $50 parcel tax could go to a fund which is a continued housing trust fund to ensure we don’t lose the stuff we have. “We need them,” he said. “This is a core service in the community. We’ve always supplied affordable housing in this community.
“We’re not talking about something new, we’re talking about going back to what we were doing before,” he stated.
The mayor is correct – we are talking about doing something that we have always done. However, at the same time, we are on the cutting edge here, and in a good way. We are talking about leveraging local resources to help with the homeless issue and affordable housing.
The state has agreed to kick in money for affordable housing and that will be a help, but it is not a replacement for RDA. Perhaps once Governor Brown leaves office, we can talk about re-establishing RDA, but in the interim SB 2 will provide some immediate money and SB 3 may provide longer term money for affordable housing – and that combined with a local parcel tax could get us to a place where we have a stream of revenue that we can actually use for affordable housing.
At the same time, last summer and this fall we heard from people in the community concerned about the homeless problem. There aren’t a lot of great solutions there, but if we have a stream of revenue, we might be able to start addressing the issue.
The reality is that a $50 parcel tax is not going to provide us with enough money to solve either of these problems, but it does get our foot in the door. This is something that we can do to actually improve the lives of others and do it in a way that is not going to break the bank.
We should be applauding the council and Mayor Davis for their foresight on this issue and their leadership.
—David M. Greenwald reporting