City Councilwoman Barbara Bry at Politifest / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Councilwoman Barbara Bry has had a change of heart on a measure to increase property taxes to build low-income homes that could be headed before voters on the November ballot.

The mayoral candidate said at a forum Sunday night that her support for the measure is not assured, a reversal from October, when she said it was a major priority.

For more than a year, the Housing Federation – a group of affordable housing developers and advocates – has been advancing an initiative through the City Council that would ask voters to approve a tax increase of 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

A home assessed at $500,000, would see a $95 property tax increase. The city would borrow money and pay off the debt off with the increased taxes. The money would pay for – or help match funding for – the construction of up to 7,500 rent-controlled homes.

At Sunday night’s mayoral debate at Temple Emanu-El, Bry said she was skeptical of the plan especially as we wait to see what happens to the hotel-room tax increase, or Measure C, which is on the March ballot.

“I voted to move the housing bond measure forward because we kind of have to start moving it forward because we have to get the legal analysis done in time,” she said. “If Measure C passes, I will not support the housing bond measure because we will have funding from Measure C. If Measure C fails, then I will read very carefully the housing bond measure to decide whether to vote for or against it,” she said at the debate.

That seemed like a shift. I asked if Bry had shifted her position on the tax.

“No, I have always been that,” she said.

But that’s not true. In October, at our mayoral debate, Bry not only said she would support the tax but thought its passage was a major priority.

“We can reduce chronic homelessness by half,” she said then. “We can cut veterans homelessness down to zero. And that’s why the most important thing to me going into the 2020 election in terms of a ballot measure is the Housing Federation ballot measure.”

She went on.

“That will be a small increase in property taxes and will allow us to build the 3,500 to 5,000 permanent supportive and low-income housing units that we need to build in San Diego. And I will be supporting that measure,” she said.

To review, she said in October she will be supporting the measure. She now says she won’t support the measure if Measure C passes in March, and will have to look at it closely if Measure C fails.

Asked for clarification, her campaign sent the following statement (emphasis theirs):

“Barbara is supportive of providing funding for permanent supportive housing as one of several tools for addressing the city’s homeless crisis. Because the bond measure proposed by the San Diego Housing Federation has not yet been written, she will reserve judgement on specifics of the measure until they are available,” read the statement.

The measure also had not yet been written in October.

It’s not the first time Bry has made a major shift on an approach to addressing housing and homelessness. As a candidate for and member of the City Council, Bry was a proponent of the so-called “housing first” approach to housing, which advocates for immediately housing the homeless and then linking them to voluntary services to help them stabilize. But in her campaign for mayor, Bry has sharply criticized housing first and those who support the approach.

Councilman Scott Sherman was also at the debate on Sunday. He said he did not support the housing bond measure. He also opposed the recent vote to advance it in the City Council. Tasha Williamson, an activist also running for mayor, said she does support the bond measure.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who was absent from the Temple Emanu-El debate, has said he supports the plan.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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