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    Vacant Property Tax Would Fund Solutions to Address Homelessness, Illegal Dumping

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    Oakland—like many Bay Area cities—has been facing rising rates of homelessness, with the counts in our community increasing dramatically in recent years. This situation is causing widespread suffering, as people are living in difficult situations in underpasses and sidewalks, often without access to water, bathrooms and more.

    In addition, there are thousands of vacant properties throughout Oakland, such as vacant lots, homes and other buildings that are empty and not in use. Vacant properties add to the blight and abandonment of our neighborhoods, attract illegal dumping and deprive the community of the opportunity to have those vacant properties be used to house people and provide other productive uses.

    As Oakland’s City-wide Councilmember At-Large, I teamed up with community members and my colleagues to propose a vacant property tax, which would fund solutions to homelessness and illegal dumping. I am pleased to announce that City Council voted to place my vacant property tax proposal on the November 2018 ballot.

    Staff has estimated that there are at least 5,000 vacant properties in the City of Oakland. If the voters approve a vacant property tax, some of these properties will end up being exempted. Therefore, it may raise around $10 million per year. This can provide more resources for navigation centers, rapid rehousing, cleaning, sanitation, small homes, alternative housing structures, eviction prevention, rent assistance and other vital steps to improve this crisis.

    The parcel tax will be adopted as a Special Tax, and if approved by 2/3 of the voters, would be collected by Alameda County through the property tax rolls, unless the Council chooses to adopt a different collection method. In addition, this Measure directs the creation of a Community Commission on Homelessness to help direct the proper use of the funds, and to publish an annual report regarding how, and to what extent, the City Council and Mayor have implemented this Ordinance. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Vancouver, Canada, have implemented taxes on vacant properties.

    This November, Oakland voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard on this important measure, which will help to encourage people to put those properties back into use, thus, increasing the housing supply, and also generating revenue to fund the solutions we need to address illegal dumping and the homelessness crisis.

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (