On November 6, voters in Richmond will have the option to vote on Measure T, a ballot initiative that would create a Special Parcel Tax on Vacant Properties to fund homelessness services and housing, blight and dumping elimination, and specified programs.
The tax would have a rate of up to $3,000 annually per vacant developed parcel and up to $6,000 annually per vacant undeveloped parcel, raising about $5.1 million annually.
The Richmond Housing Advisory Commission would help direct the proper use of funds and publish an annual report on the use and impact of the special tax revenue.
|Property Type||Total Parcels||Annual Tax Rate||Revenue|
|Vacant Parcel||810 undeveloped||up to $6,000||$4,860,000|
|Vacant Building||83 developed||up to $3,000||$249,000|
The proposed parcel tax on vacant property would apply to most vacant property throughout the city, including undeveloped private property, vacant commercial and industrial buildings, and vacant residential units. A property would be classified as vacant if it is in use less than 50 days during a calendar year. The property need not have a building or structure on it to be "in active use." For example, this proposed tax would not apply to properties that are used as gardens, or to host farmers' markets. The Measure would create an administrative process through which the owner of vacant property could apply for waiver to be exempted from the tax.
Please refer to the Measure T ordinance, Section 13.58.020 - Determination of Vacancy, for a full definition. Click Here to view the document.
Homelessness and blight, including dumping, vegetation overgrowth, and unoccupied buildings, are two pervasive and enduring issues in Richmond, both underfunded and under-addressed.
According to the Point in Time count of January 2018, there were 270 unsheltered individuals in Richmond, living in encampments under overpasses, in vacant lots, and along freeways, railroad rights-of-way, and creeks. Contra Costa County's Health Services CORE team logged 721 unique contact points with homeless individuals between January 2017 and April 2018 .
Unregulated and unserviced encampments come with significant problems for the occupants and the surrounding communities. Encampments are inadequate and unsafe for their unsheltered residents and can have negative impacts on community health and safety. Areas surrounding unmanaged encampments can experience increases in blight and criminal activities including drug abuse and petty theft. They also foster an image that the neighborhood is declining, which can affect property values and community pride.
Encampments are political flashpoints with a lack of clear solutions. Some neighbors and community members want them to go away. Others argue that compassion should prevail, and the City should provide services within managed encampments while allowing them to stay put. While neither position is wrong, it is imperative that the City actively seek creative and effective solutions to improve community health and safety by serving all residents of our city, sheltered or not.
Currently, there is no source of funding in Richmond to move homeless persons into housing, assuming it is even available. The average rent for a studio apartment in Richmond is $1,400 a month, or $16,800 per year. If we were to provide enough units to house those counted as unsheltered and those staying in emergency shelter beds in Richmond, we would need to provide housing to nearly 581 individuals. Currently, there are not enough available units, and the cost of providing rental assistance to each individual could cost up to $9.76 million per year.
Vacant properties are also a problem, negatively impacting the community by attracting crime, blight and illegal dumping. Properties that remain vacant undermine the safety and vitality of our neighborhoods, and take up space that could be used for housing and businesses, creating jobs and providing tax revenue.
Taxing the “unearned increment” is coming back in vogue among municipal policy makers and scholars of urban studies. If real property consists of both structures and land, and if the value of land is determined by locational amenities produced by a community and improvements to other properties in the same area, then a property owner who leaves his fully served urban land vacant derives a profit unrelated to his investment. Taxing this “unearned increment” would encourage owners of vacant land to develop their properties, or sell their parcels to those who would, thus increasing housing-stock, business activity and jobs while driving down rents.
In addition to creating a dedicated funding source, by taxing vacant properties, this measure will help encourage people to put those properties back into use, thus, increasing the housing supply. Properties that are left vacant for extended periods of time can attract crime and cause blight, harming the surrounding neighborhood. Taxing vacant properties, therefore, is helpful on both ends of this problem. The tax itself will incentivize productive use of vacant properties, and the tax revenue will be used to address the homelessness crisis and sources of poverty as well as blight.