Quick Take:

Measure N will help fund affordable housing by taxing those who don’t use their homes more than eight months a year, argues Cyndi Dawson, chair of the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission and campaign manager for Measure N. At a minimum, she writes, the city estimates taxing empty homes will generate $2.5-$4 million to support housing for the community and help keep our teachers, child care, health care and service workers from moving away. Santa Cruz has a history of supporting tax measures and Dawson thinks residents need to step up and support this measure.

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The people who call Santa Cruz home are the beating heart of this community.

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Community Voices Election 2022

Community Voices is bringing you the direct voices of the candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, those who want to represent you. We will also bring you the voices of those supporting and opposing local ballot initiatives.

It’s one of the most fundamental parts of Lookout’s role in democracy, and one we all prize more deeply as we witness the widening assaults on democracy across the country and the world.

We believe this will help you stay informed and make important choices about who you want to represent you and what issues matter to our community. Our Election 2022 page brings together all of Lookout’s current coverage.

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Our teachers, child care providers, health care workers, service workers and elders make Santa Cruz vibrant and drive our economic engine. Skyrocketing housing costs and stagnant wages are pushing our friends, family and neighbors out.

We need more affordable housing to make Santa Cruz a more equitable place that can thrive into the future.

As the current chair of the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission, I know the majority of construction underway and on the horizon in Santa Cruz is market rate. As a single person, you would need to make $46 per hour to afford a one-bedroom unit. Wages of most people who work in Santa Cruz don’t come close to that.

I have also learned from city staff and affordable-housing developers that one effective solution to produce more affordable housing is to create a local funding source to subsidize its creation.

Measure N is part of the solution and creates a way for the community to step up and fund affordable housing.

The low-end estimate from the city of revenue generated is $2.5 million to $4 million annually to create more affordable housing. Affordable-housing experts like Housing Santa Cruz County and the Non-Profit Housing Coalition of Northern California endorse Measure N because they know those funds can be leveraged to access millions of dollars in additional state and federal funding.

Without matching funds, those government dollars will remain untapped for our community. Measure N also helps the city achieve sustainability and climate goals, as it encourages the utilization of existing space and supports more affordable housing for people to live where they work, shortening commutes.

Santa Cruz has a history of using property taxes like Measure N to fund our community’s most important priorities.

We came together over the years to support Measure S for libraries, 2016’s Measure D for transportation and several other property taxes to support schools. We now have a chance to join together to support our schools by voting yes on K and L and support creating affordable housing by voting yes on N.

Measure N uses the same model as these property taxes — with the added benefit that only a small number of individuals who choose to leave their properties unused for more than eight months a year will pay the tax.

Unlike the bond measures mentioned above, Measure N is not a loan the city will have to pay interest on.

This expert-informed and community-driven initiative levies a tax on property that is left empty for more than eight months of each year. That means you could be gone for eight months of a year and you would NOT pay the tax.

Cyndi Dawson, chair of the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission and Measure N campaign manager
Cyndi Dawson, chair of the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission and Measure N campaign manager, during Monday’s forum. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) will not be taxed and have no occupancy requirement.

The tax is $6,000 for a single-family home and $3,000 for a condo/apartment.

Property owners will use a simple, easy-to-navigate self-declaration process, like ones already in use, to declare their occupancy status for each calendar year.

For the average property owner, it will take five minutes. No additional paperwork is required. Exemptions include: serious illness, construction, court proceedings, inheritance, long-term care, military deployment, natural disaster, owner death, sale of the property and other hardships. The 291 permitted short-term rentals already paying fees to the city can also apply for an exemption.

Enforcement includes the same penalties already on the books for other taxes here.

No one is going to jail if their paperwork is late.

As with other taxes, audits are random and there is no minimum number of audits required. If revenue is low for a year, the city can choose to reduce administrative costs and limit or not conduct any audits. Audits are one of the highest administrative costs associated with a tax.

The city’s own fiscal impact report states Measure N will cover all such costs and will not require general fund monies — while raising millions annually to create affordable housing.

The opposition is funded by real estate and development interests which profit from maintaining our housing affordability crisis by using untrue scare tactics about Measure N.

Meanwhile, empty homes hollow out our neighborhoods, destabilize our workforce and weaken community ties.

We know taxes on empty homes, like Measure N, work because they have raised millions of dollars for affordable housing in Oakland and in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Measure N is straightforward, reasonable, and fair. No hidden agenda and no complicated language that can’t be understood.

Over 5,000 residents signed the Measure N petition to get on the ballot and thousands more support this straightforward part of the solution to our affordability crisis.

I hope you will all join us to keep Santa Cruz accessible and thriving.

Cyndi Dawson has been a resident of Santa Cruz since 1998 and lives on the Eastside. She is a marine scientist, small business owner, elected member of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee for District 3 and the current chair of the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission. She also is currently volunteering as campaign manager for Measure N, working with her community toward a Santa Cruz that works for all of us.