San Francisco voters will decide in November whether to impose a tax on large businesses to pay for homeless and housing services.

Supporters of a measure that would raise $300 million annually collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the city’s elections department announced Monday.

A man lies underneath a blanket next to a suitcase in front of Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
A man lies underneath a blanket next to a suitcase in front of Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco. Supporters of a tax to raise funds to fight homelessness put a measure on the city's November ballot. Bloomberg News


The city currently imposes a gross receipts tax on businesses that ranges from .16% to .65% based on the type of business activity. The measure would increase that by between .175% to .69%.

The tax would only be on revenue over $50 million a year, according to the measure.

Some of the larger businesses pay a payroll tax of 1.4% instead of using gross receipts to calculate their tax. The measure would add another 1.5% on their payroll tax.

The proposal was put together by several advocacy groups in the city who had been meeting for months, said Sam Lew, policy director for the Coalition on Homelessness, a San Francisco nonprofit supporting the measure.

“We really wanted to see something big and bold that would put a dent in this homelessness crisis and really get people off the street and into homes,” she said.

Half of the measure’s revenues would be directed towards permanent housing including building and acquiring new units and providing rental subsidies for up to five years. Funds would also go for short-term housing to get the homeless off the streets; programs to assist people at risk of homelessness such as legal representation in eviction cases; and mental health services.

Lew said the city has about 7,500 homeless people sleeping on city streets. The measure proposes to create permanent housing for at least 4,000 people and add 1,000 shelter beds within five years.

Spending would be controlled by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with a citizens advisory panel making recommendations.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is likely to oppose the measure, according to The Associated Press. The chamber estimated that about 1,000 businesses would be affected by the proposed tax including large companies such as Twitter, Uber and Levi Strauss & Co.

So far no city elected officials have publicly taken a stance on the measure.

San Francisco is the latest city to explore a business tax to deal with homelessness. In May, Seattle passed a $275-per-employee tax but following opposition from businesses including Amazon repealed it weeks later.

In Mountain View, California -- the Silicon Valley city that is home to Google -- the City Council recently placed an employee tax on the November ballot to fund transportation and housing programs.

Lew said she believes support for the measure will be strong in San Francisco. Backers collected 28,761 signatures – about three times the 9,485 needed to qualify, according to the elections department.

Reducing homelessness benefits businesses especially those in the tourism and hotel industry who complain that some customers are wary of the city because of the homelessness problem, Lew said.

“I think in San Francisco communities are really ready to see something like this happen,” she said. “The number one issue in San Francisco is homelessness and the housing crisis. They really want to see people get off the streets whether it’s a moral imperative or they want to see clean streets.”

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