We are living through a crisis of homelessness and housing affordability, but one policy change out of Sacramento could turn it overnight from a growing problem into an avalanche of tragic stories.
In our backyard of L.A. County, we are seeing a huge spike in older Californians becoming homeless. It’s difficult to define exactly why. Many feel it is a deadly cocktail of rising health care costs, transportation costs, changing job markets, and more. What is clear is the cost of housing is a driving factor in the growth of homelessness. The lucky seniors who have paid off their homes or are in an affordable fixed rate mortgage are protected from huge swings in cost, and the threat of homelessness, by Proposition 13.
Forty years ago this June, Californians passed Prop. 13, right away lowering property tax rates on homes and businesses by about 57 percent. Prior to passage, the average property tax rate hovered around 3 percent of the current market value of a home, and there were no limits on how much local governments or the state could increase the rates or the value of the home upon which the rate is charged. Until Prop. 13 was passed, horror stories of homeowners’ assessed values being increased by 50 to 100 percent in a single year were commonplace.
Imagine fighting your whole life to afford retirement, paying off your home, scrimping and saving, and managing a modest but fixed income. Now, imagine your costs increase by thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of dollars in property tax rates. For many, the outcome would be homelessness. Without an adequate support system of family and friends, many people could end up on the streets.
If the past is any lesson, the housing bubble that imploded in 2007 was made much worse for many because loan products that included variable rates and periods of interest-only payments led to historic numbers of Californians losing their homes. Stability matters. This is why the Legislature’s recent refusal to protect Prop. 13 and the safeguards it provides to homeowners, particularly seniors, is so disturbing.
Last month I authored a resolution proclaiming the Legislature’s commitment to protect Prop. 13. The resolution was rejected on a purely party line vote. The partisanship was saddening.
I have seen some interesting things since taking office in 2016 representing the 38th Assembly district. Some of those things are eye opening, some are silly, and some make me shake my head at the way life-changing decisions are made for all of us out of a small Sacramento political bubble. But none shocked me quite as much as my colleagues from across the aisle rejecting the idea that Californians deserve the stability Prop. 13 offers.
This is in no way just about protecting wealthy homeowners or corporations. The people who continue to benefit most from Prop. 13 are middle-class homeowners, senior citizens, veterans, small businesses with no margin for cost increases, and renters who would see the cost of growing taxes and property values passed along to them in dangerous rent spikes.
An overwhelming percentage of Californians agree Prop. 13 is a good thing, yet in the Sacramento bubble some would like it to go away. If those politicians have their way, the result would be tragic. We would see skyrocketing elderly homelessness rates, and for many young folks the dream of owning a home would be lost.
This isn’t about “revenues” or some other clinical term to make tax policy look only like a technical detail of governance. Rather, protecting Prop. 13 is about real people’s lives and the real impacts of pulling the rug out from under them.
We must all remain vigilant against the threats to our region’s future by bad policy from Sacramento. Now is the time for the large majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents who agree to unite and demand Sacramento politicians hear what we are saying: Prop. 13 is a good thing for our state and it deserves to be protected.
Dante Acosta represents the 38th Assembly District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley.