Opinion: Berkeley’s new programs are getting the homeless rehoused. Vote ‘yes’ on Measure P to expand these initiatives  

Measure P will replicate the successful soda tax to ensure funds are appropriately used. It places an additional surcharge on high real estate transactions to help those in need regain housing and rebuild their lives.

Many people think homelessness is a problem that cannot be solved. And it’s no wonder. Berkeley’s citizens are generous and compassionate, yet still the crisis deepens. We see the suffering of our homeless neighbors, and experience the challenging impacts of so many people living on our streets, many with mental and other health challenges. We wish we could help, but feel powerless, as individuals, to make a difference.

For all who wish we could solve this crisis – for the homeless and for the broader community – we have some good news. While one person acting alone can’t do much to end homelessness, when we join together as a community, we can do a lot.

Your ‘yes” vote on Berkeley’s Measure P will provide a ten-year surge in resources available for Berkeley to significantly reduce unsheltered homelessness. With these critically needed funds, we can continue and expand our newly launched services and facilities that have resulted in 166  homeless being rehoused since 2016. (Statistics provided by Peter Radu, Berkeley’s homeless coordinator). Berkeleyside has covered these heartening successes[1][2], which provide the best hope for us to house the homeless, and compassionately end the tragic situation on our streets – for the benefit of everyone.

Berkeley now has a coordinated plan with a single purpose, and the homeless are being rehoused. The Pathways Project, unanimously approved by the City Council in April 2017[3], guides our work. New for Berkeley, it is based on the nationally recognized best practice of “Housing First,” developed by the Veterans Administration under President Obama. Since its launch, the VA has succeeded in ending Veterans’ homelessness in three states and in 61 counties and cities nationwide.[4] The state of Utah adopted Housing First on a statewide basis, and has reduced chronic homelessness by over 90%[5].

Measure P[6] will provide funding that can be used to increase the pace our homeless are rehoused, expand mental health and job readiness services and put the “support” in supportive housing. In a recent city of Berkeley survey,[7] over 80% of respondents stated that increasing investment in measures to address homelessness and expand affordable housing is “very” or “extremely” important for Berkeley. Measure P responds directly to the stated priorities of our community – and to the desperate needs so evident on our streets.

Measure P raises the transfer tax on high value commercial and residential property transactions from 1.5% to 2.5%. It sunsets after 10 years. Like a sales tax, it is assessed only when a property is purchased; and only on the top ⅓ of transactions – those over an initial threshold of $1.5 million. The threshold is adjusted yearly to ensure only the top approximately ⅓ of property transactions is ever affected. In 2017, Berkeley recorded 872 property sales (commercial and residential), of which only 178 were above $1.5 million, and would have been subject to Measure P’s tax.

Measure P is a truly progressive measure, capturing only the highest value transactions to make funds available to help those who struggle most in our community. Fewer than 200 people in Berkeley will ever pay it each year, and because of the high threshold for its applicability, the average homebuyer (and many more affluent homebuyers) will never be assessed.

Mailers and texts messages attacking Measure P, levying wild accusations of “dishonesty” “schemes” and “manipulation,” are sent to you courtesy of the National Association of Realtors[8][9], the California Association of Realtors[10][11], and the Oakland/Berkeley Association of Realtors[12]. Like Big Soda, they have no interest in the well-being of our community; they are driven by their interest in preserving profits.

Berkeley has repeatedly stood up to corporate bullying, and we must stand up again. Realtors are attacking Measure P, ostensibly because funds raised will be deposited into the city’s General Fund. In fact, state law[13] requires that transfer tax proceeds be placed into the general fund; to do otherwise would violate the law.

Measure P uses the successful soda tax model to ensure proper use of funds. Proceeds from Berkeley’s popular 2014 “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax,” which passed with 76% of the vote, are already deposited into the city’s general fund. To ensure citizen participation, a “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts” was created, to advise the City Council on funding for programs to reduce consumption and address health impacts.[14] The City Council has demonstrated good faith with soda tax funds, using 100% to support promised outcomes, and will do the same with Measure P funds.

Measure P includes an identical panel – the Homeless Services Panel of Experts – to advise the City Council on use of funds to address the homeless crisis. This model of citizen participation is working for the soda tax and has never been challenged in the courts. And, as always, the community will be watching.

Measure P is endorsed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Nancy Skinner, former State Senator Loni Hancock, Supervisor Keith Carson, former Mayor Tom Bates, Berkeley City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, and every member of the Berkeley City Council, School Board and Rent Stabilization Board, as well as the Democratic Party, the League of Women’s Voters and the Sierra Club – among others.

Vote YES on Measure P to make significant, lasting and visible progress towards the goals we all share: ending unsheltered homelessness, and relieving the challenging impacts to our streets, parks, commercial areas and neighborhoods.

[1]https://www.berkeleyside.com/2018/10/10/berkeleys-pathways-homeless-shelter-has-helped-20-people-find-homes-in-3-months

[2]https://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/03/30/system-change-berkeley-works-focus-homeless-money-housing

[3]https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2017/04_Apr/Documents/2017-04-04_Item_27_Addressing_Berkeley%E2%80%99s_Homeless_Crisis_The_Pathways_Project.aspx

[4] https://www.va.gov/homeless/endingvetshomelessness.asp

[5] https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/5/14/can-utahs-approach-to-homelessness-work-everywhere

[6]https://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Elections/Transfer%20Tax%20-%20All_Ballot%20Question%20and%20Full%20Text.pdf

[7]https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2018/03_Mar/Documents/2018-03-27_Item_23_Discussion_and_Direction_Regarding_-_Supp.aspx

[8] 497 Contribution Report dated 10/18/2018 – National Association of Realtors

[9] 497 Contribution Report dated 10/5/2018 – National Association of Realtors

[10] 497 Contribution Report dated 10/10/2018 – California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC)

[11] 497 Contribution Report dated 9/27/2018 – California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC)

[12]410 Statement of Organization Amendment dated 10/01/2018 – Committee for Affordable Housing and Accountability – No on P, Sponsored by Realtors

[13] Part 6.7 (commencing with Section 11901) of Division 2 of the Revenue and Taxation Code of the state of California

[14] https://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Elections/Ballot%20Measures%20-%20November%202014.pdf

Jesse Arreguin is the mayor of Berkeley. Linda Maio, Sophie Hahn and Kate Harrison are City Councilwomen. They are the executive committee for Neighbors for an Affordable Berkeley - Yes on O and P 2018.