Author: Louis

The Real Cost of Housing

The Real Cost of Housing

Editorial: Californians say ‘yes’ to housing measures. Mostly.

By now, California voters know the drill. They’ve decided on the statewide ballot initiatives that shape what their communities look like and what they pay in taxes. But they often overlook the fact that in the final analysis, they’re all political theater.

They’re also not taking an honest look at the costs we’ll all have to pay, whether we live here or elsewhere. And with Proposition 10’s requirement that the state fund new affordable units through a “housing revenue bond” (i.e., a property tax increase), Proposition 20 and Measure HHH, the real cost of housing will get another shot at the ballot box.


This year, it is the time to decide whether to raise taxes. A real estate tax hike was defeated in 2008 and will fail again in November. Proposition 20, the ballot measure to fund affordable housing through a property tax increase, also fails this year. And Measure HHH, the tax on commercial real estate values, fails because it is not a property tax. (Proposition HHH was designed to increase taxes to support housing for low- and moderate-income families, not commercial real estate in general.)

That doesn’t mean we can’t consider the cost. California has an $11 billion budget shortfall and an estimated $25 billion housing and community development gap. The state will spend over $20 billion on housing in the next decade. If it’s not the people’s money, it’s our money.

But there’s another way to look at this as a debate over how much revenue Californians will have to pay in order to solve the housing crisis — a debate you can take part in.

Measure HHH, the commercial property tax.

This year, on the election ballot, will be the measure that taxes commercial real estate to raise money for affordable housing. This isn’t a new concept, though: In 1990, California voters passed Proposition 13 to tax commercial real estate. With the passage of Proposition 13, state revenues grew, but it was a short-term fix to the state’s housing crisis.

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