Guest Opinion: On my knees for SF's Prop M

  • by Victor H. Floyd
  • Wednesday September 28, 2022
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The Reverend Victor H. Floyd holds a newly-baptized baby boy during a church service. Photo: Courtesy Victor H. Floyd; baby photographed with permission
The Reverend Victor H. Floyd holds a newly-baptized baby boy during a church service. Photo: Courtesy Victor H. Floyd; baby photographed with permission

Thirty years ago, I tested positive for HIV. I could not imagine a secure future for myself as an out gay man in my hometown of Atlanta. I had to escape. Like so many queer people before me, I fled to find hope in San Francisco. Finding more than survival, I have flourished here. I got a new community — a family of choice — that offered me accessible health care, a loving formerly-unhoused husband, and a theological education. I could not have realized my religious vocation in Georgia, but now I offer spiritual care for a historic Christian congregation in Pacific Heights. Making my way wasn't easy, but for people who come here looking for their American Dream, today it's nearly impossible. San Francisco's current queer refugees are more likely to become homeless and live in encampments than they are to realize the promise of San Francisco.

According to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst office, in 2019 there were 40,458 residential units standing empty in our city. What other cities might call abandoned homes or urban blight, we call speculation. Investors purchase blocks of empty residential units to hold empty while they appreciate. Then, empty homes are traded like stock. Global elites use our housing stock as their investment scheme, while the San Francisco Chronicle estimates another 20,000 San Franciscans are headed for encampments within a year.

Proposition M on the November 8 ballot offers a sensible way to break this cycle, something that's worked already in Paris and Vancouver. Prop M will tax owners of residential housing that stands empty for six months or more. The taxes collected from Prop M will benefit seniors and low-income families through rent subsidies. In the first year alone, an estimated 4,500 units could come online. Additionally, Prop M will fund the conversion of empty buildings into affordable housing. Single-family homes and duplexes are exempt from Prop M since it applies only to buildings of three or more housing units. It won't tax homes under repair, new construction, or units vacated due to disaster or death. If corporate landlords can afford to let their buildings stand as monuments to wealth accumulation, they can afford to help seniors and low-income families avoid displacement and eviction. The longer investment units stand intentionally empty, the higher the tax. Prop M does not prevent speculation, it transforms it into subsidies.

Prop M is the moral thing to do. It will keep people in their homes. Imagine converting empty homes into rent for old people. Prop M is endorsed by a wide range of organizations including Faith in Action Bay Area (with which I am involved), the San Francisco Democratic Party, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, the League of Pissed Off Voters, and the upwardly-mobile YIMBY Action. Personally, I know real estate agents and landlords who support Prop M because they are of the mind that homes are meant for people, and people are meant for homes.

The arguments against Prop M are a bit far-fetched. The official "against" arguments from the San Francisco Apartment Association claim Prop M will cause San Franciscans to spy on one another and report vacancies. (Other enforcement is in place.) They call Prop M "feeble" and say that it should go further. (Prop M is a wise, intentionally-crafted measure and will chip away at the injustice that faces us every time we walk through our neighborhoods.) Other arguments against the measure include the folks at the Housing Action Coalition who claim it will make traffic worse. (I can't even with that.)

No one offers evidence to counter the supervisors' Budget and Legislative Analyst office. No one can counter the empirical evidence from Paris and Vancouver. Unless you're an oligarch that keeps apartment buildings empty, it's hard to find an argument against Prop M.

Let's keep seniors and low-income households together, safe, and sheltered.

Back in 1979, when I was young and reckless, the first person I took for a ride with my new driver's license was my grandmother. She let me take her on the freeway. Well, I might not have asked, but we went for a ride on the freeway. There was a slower, older driver in the fast lane and I, young and stupid, blew my horn at her to move over. "Don't blow at her!" my grandmother admonished me. "She might be feeble, but she's wise! She has experience. She knows what she's doing. She will get where she's going in one piece." Call Prop M weak all you like, but it's wise. It will help get us where we need to go. Prop M won't fix everything, but it's a reasonable step in the right direction. As my wise white-knuckled grandmother reminded me from the passenger seat of my careening Ford Pinto, "slow and steady wins the race."

My hope might seem optimistic, but I believe in a San Francisco where you don't have to be a zillionaire to plan a future. I believe that San Franciscans have hearts big enough to help seniors and low-income neighbors avoid displacement. If that inconveniences the super-rich, I have a Bible full of stories to support my position. Vote for the future of your neighbors like me who don't belong anywhere else but here, home in San Francisco.

Vote yes on Prop M.

The Reverend Victor H. Floyd is an out and ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and former pastor of Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco. He serves Calvary Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pacific Heights and is a leader in Faith in Action Bay Area.

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