San Jose: More than 100 supporters rally for housing tax measure
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks at a Measure E campaign kickoff event held in San Jose on Saturday. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

A crowd of 175 people filled a block outside Second Street Studios in downtown San Jose on Saturday to rally for a ballot measure expected to bring $70 million each year for affordable housing if it passes in the March election.

“We are going to bring San Jose in,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo at the campaign kickoff for Measure E. “We all want to be in (this) together because we know the city is great when we’re all in and too many of our neighbors are being pushed out of our city.”

Silicon Valley at Home Action Fund is leading the campaign behind the measure which would be funded through a real property transfer tax on properties valued at $2 million or more. Dozens more nonprofits and other organizations, including Destination: Home, Habitat for Humanity and the Veterans Supportive Services Agency, have gotten involved.

The initiative will appear on the March ballot and needs a simple majority to pass.

Supporters say the measure is key for helping the region pull itself out of a severe housing crisis while its opponents say they are wary of yet another tax and an inability to guarantee the money — which gets pooled into the city’s general fund — would actually go toward housing.

Including the mayor, eight speakers took to the microphone during Saturday’s event to voice their support of the measure with many of them sharing their own stories of struggle as well.

The Second Street Studios served as an appropriate backdrop for the event as the first long-term affordable housing development in downtown San Jose. Since last year, formerly homeless residents living in the studios have shared their firsthand experiences of living on the streets in a San José Spotlight column.

Second Street Studios resident Raymond Ramsey said Saturday he was “blessed” to move into the complex last May after spending a decade on and off the streets. He says he supports Measure E because it would help the more than 6,000 individuals in the city who are still without a home.

“A very diverse group of formerly homeless individuals and families with different backgrounds and stories now have permanent homes here at Second Street Studios,” Ramsey said. “We are living proof that the homeless population is neither helpless nor hopeless and that permanent supportive housing is the key.”

Sen. Jim Beall, who represents the South Bay and Silicon Valley, stressed the importance of affordable housing and suggested that all cities in the county should have a similar measure on their ballots.

“Affordability is the major issue politically and if you’re a politician, I’d say, if you’re not addressing affordability and housing, you’re not going to win elections — at least I won’t support you,” he said.

Beall revealed that he was once homeless when, as a child, his family’s house burned down. He said it had been difficult to fit the family of 12 into a hotel room and recalled having to spread out and “couch surf.” Beall compared the help of others during that challenging time to Measure E.

“Measure E is a sign of our empathy and our humanity,” he said. “If we decide not to support Measure E on the ballot, it’s a sign that we’re turning into a selfish community.”

But opponents still worry that more taxes make it harder to survive in Silicon Valley and could actually stunt housing production.

“You’re taxing the very thing you’re trying to alleviate which makes no sense at all,” Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association Vice President Pete Constant told San José Spotlight last month.

Indeed, support for more taxes in costly Silicon Valley — despite the region’s pressing social problems — appears to be waning.

According to a city survey last year, the city failed to secure the two-thirds voter support needed to pass two general obligation bonds, prompting legislators to pursue the property tax instead. A poll released in November indicated that 60 percent of voters would support the property transfer tax.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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