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Affordable Housing Bond Advocates Agree to Stand Down Until 2020

The San Diego Housing Federation, an affordable housing lobbying group, said Monday that recent polling, an increasingly crowded November ballot and a tight fundraising timeline persuaded them to postpone their measure until 2020.

A homeless encampment in East Village / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Affordable housing advocates have decided to delay a proposed $900 million housing bond measure until 2020.

The San Diego Housing Federation said Monday that recent polling, an increasingly crowded November ballot and a tight fundraising timeline persuaded them to stand down for two years.

“We’re choosing to move forward to 2020 because it provides our best chance of success,” said Stephen Russell of the Housing Federation.

The Housing Federation had for months pushed a property tax increase it estimated could fund 7,500 homes for low-income and homeless San Diegans.

In more recent months, supporters of a hotel-tax increase pressured the bond measure campaign to wait two years, fearing both measures could fail in November. Both likely need to win two-thirds support in order to prevail.

But Russell said the behind-the-scenes pressure is not what led the group to wait until 2020.

He said the group decided a 2020 bid would be more favorable given the presidential election will draw a larger electorate.

An increasing number of November ballot measures – including a likely San Diego Unified School District property tax hike measure – and the need for six supportive City Council votes also added wrinkles.

Then there was the short, competitive fundraising timeline ahead of the November election.

A new state law requiring agencies to provide more detailed information in 75-word ballot statements may have also posed challenges.

A November San Diego Housing Federation-funded poll found that 71 percent of likely city voters would back the $900 million bond. In more recent weeks, city officials pushed for more specific language detailing the measure.

Russell would not comment on how changing language in the measure might have affected polling but said his group would now focus on setting plans and building a coalition for 2020.

He said advocates struggled with the decision.

San Diego has in recent years seen a surge in homelessness and experienced a housing crunch that has forced some to move elsewhere or onto the streets. A deadly hepatitis A outbreak that battered San Diego’s homeless population underlined the crisis – and the cost of inaction.

Yet while other California communities have in the past few years passed funding measures to bankroll more housing and homelessness solutions, San Diego hasn’t. Regions that can put up more of their own money can often pull in more state money or increase the impact of the state money they receive. Advocates have been particularly focused on two statewide November ballot measures that could raise about $6 billion for housing and veteran home loans.

“It is disappointing,” said Russell, who said his group would campaign for the housing-focused state ballot measures. “There’s a desperate need for affordable housing but we need to make sure we have the best chance for success.”

The Housing Federation isn’t ready to support the hotel-tax measure backed by a coalition of labor and business leaders that would raise an estimated $2 billion for yet-to-be-detailed homelessness programs over 42 years and fund a Convention Center expansion.

“We don’t have enough information to make an evaluation of what kind of impact it would have on homelessness and affordable housing,” Russell said. “We’ll evaluate whatever information is out there. There just isn’t much.”

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