Measure N offers empty promises and invasive oversight: It’s not Santa Cruz’s answer to affordable housing

A No on Measure N campaign sign in Santa Cruz
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Measure N, the empty homes tax, is a cruel empty promise, argues Lynn Renshaw, a founder of Santa Cruz Together. She writes that Measure N is not the answer we seek for affordable housing in our community. It creates what she calls “an unelected and intrusive bureaucracy” that requires residents to report how often they live in their homes or face criminal penalties and fines. It distracts from more practical solutions to our real housing challenges. It’s unworkable and wrong, she says, insisting, “we should be able to come and go freely from our property without city government monitoring or control.” Santa Cruz, she believes, deserves better.

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Measure N, the empty homes tax, is a cruel empty promise.

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We all want more affordable housing for our seniors, first responders, teachers, service workers and loved ones. Measure N’s proponents claim it will make housing affordable for everyone.

It won’t.

At most, it might result in a few more affordable apartments at some vague time in the future — if at all.

Measure N will do nothing to lower existing rents or housing costs.

According to the Sentinel endorsement of NO on N, it would “only make the housing crisis worse.”

What it will do is impose heavy-handed audits, fines and criminal penalties on residents who are accidentally late providing documentation and evidence proving they live in their homes.

Measure N is poorly conceived — extreme, unnecessarily complicated, punitive and costly.

It would set up a new, unelected bureaucracy to track, audit, tax and fine residents deemed not to be living at home enough. All of which is unnecessary, since the city already has data (water, electricity records) it could use to identify the small number of homes that would qualify as vacant.

This new, large bureaucracy would distract from practical solutions to our real housing challenges.

Santa Cruz deserves better.

If passed, Measure N will have lasting negative consequences on everyone in Santa Cruz. It will invade the privacy of everyone by requiring residents to legally register and provide occupancy status to the city, year after year.

Residents will be subject to audits requiring three years of documentation and evidence to prove they were home “enough.” Residents deemed not home enough would pay a $6,000 tax, with no sliding scale that takes personal financial status or the value of property into consideration.

Measure N creates extreme, heavy-handed criminal penalties and fines. Even residents who are merely late to fill out their occupancy status face misdemeanor charges and a $1,000 per day fine every single day they are late.

These criminal penalties are extreme and wrong.

Lynn Renshaw, a founder of Santa Cruz Together, during Monday's forum.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The $6,000 tax has limited exemptions for hospitalizations, moves to assisted living and death.

Today, the city doesn’t collect any information about private lives, beyond name and address for garbage and water service. If Measure N passes, the invasive audit provisions may force residents to share extremely personal information like family medical records and death certificates.

Grieving families should be left in peace.

Measure N creates a new unelected city board with broad powers to make rules about how we use our homes, define how residents prove they’re home, and decide penalties.

The city estimates that $1 million of its existing budget will be diverted to start the new bureaucracy. But revenue projections from the new $6,000 tax and fines are speculative at best.

There is no guarantee that the expenses of the new board will be covered in the future, and if passed, Measure N is likely to cause expensive lawsuits against the city.

Creating affordable housing in Santa Cruz is necessary and challenging.

This divisive measure won’t build meaningful new housing, but it will saddle us forever with lasting punitive, invasive consequences.

Measure N would hang a $6,000 annual tax over every household and then force residents to prove that they do not owe the money.

Measure N would subject you and your neighbors to audits up to once a year to prove you live in your home, and to provide evidence of three years of occupancy.

Measure N will subject you and your neighbors to a new, unelected and intrusive government bureaucracy that monitors the use of your homes. It also makes it a crime to fail to report how many months you live in your home.

It’s unworkable and wrong. We should be able to come and go freely from our property without government monitoring or control.

All of Santa Cruz will be guilty until proven innocent if Measure N passes.

We need real solutions to housing affordability and homelessness.

Santa Cruz deserves a better approach to our housing challenges. Measure N is not the answer.

Please join our broad coalition in voting no on N.

Lynn Renshaw volunteers her time as a founder of Santa Cruz Together, a grassroots network of thousands actively working to improve Santa Cruz. Lynn has volunteered her time in schools, as a girls soccer coach, with local sustainability nonprofits, and as a board member of the Democratic Women’s Club. Lynn met her husband mountain biking and put down roots here over 30 years ago. You can still find her biking through local forests.

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