Richmond voters in November will decide whether to tax vacant properties to pay for homelessness services, affordable housing and other things.
The vacant property tax measure was inspired by one in Oakland, which was approved for the November ballot a few weeks ago, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. If Richmond voters pass the measure — it needs a two-thirds majority vote — a special parcel tax will be placed on vacant properties at the rate of $3,000 a year per vacant developed parcel and $6,000 a year per undeveloped parcel.
The tax would generate an estimated $5.4 million a year for the next 20 years, according to a report from Butt and Councilman Eduardo Martinez. That money will be earmarked for homelessness services, housing, blight, fighting illegal dumping and other specific programs.
There are 980 to 1,180 vacant parcels in the city and 250 vacant structures — most of which are abandoned homes, the report said. About 998 would be subject to the tax.
“In addition to creating a dedicated funding source, by taxing vacant properties, this measure will help encourage people to put those properties back into use, thus increasing the housing supply,” Martinez and Butt said in the report.
The measure passed unanimously at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Only one member of the public spoke on the measure; she was concerned that a vacant lot that she has owned since the 1980s and had turned into a garden would be taxed. City officials at the meeting said it would not be subject to the tax.
Property would be classified as vacant and subject to the tax if it is used less than 50 days a year. The tax would not apply to properties used as gardens or to host farmers markets, the report said.
A hardship exemption would be available to people who qualify as “very low-income” under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines. Very low-income is defined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as households who make 50 percent of the area median income. For Richmond in 2018, a family of four with an income of less than $58,100 would be classified as very low-income.
Vacant property owners who can prove that specific circumstances prevent the use or development of the property are also eligible for an exemption. For example, if a natural disaster damaged the property, or if an undeveloped property was being used as a yard for an adjoining property, it would be exempt. If the measure passes in November, the City Council would include details of that exemption in a separate ordinance, the report said.