Oakland Wants to Tax Vacant Properties to Help Ease Homelessness

Owners of properties in use fewer than 50 days per year would be taxed as much as $6,000 per parcel annually, if two-thirds of voters approve the measure in November.

Two weeks after the Oakland City Council voted 6-2 to place the tax on the ballot, officials in the neighboring city of Richmond greenlighted a similar proposal.

Owners of vacant properties would pay the same amount of additional tax, regardless of the size or worth of their property. Under California law, cities cannot legally tie a parcel tax to market values.

Critics worry the tax could disproportionately hurt small landowners, pushing some to sell their property to investors that can pay Oakland’s skyrocketing market values. But proponents praise the tax as a creative incentive to transform thousands of vacant lots and buildings into homes or businesses, and at the same time decrease blight.

. . .But Acosta, who also owns a lot labeled as vacant by the county assessor’s office, doubted the tax would encourage him to build the duplex he previously planned for his land. He was dismayed after learning city permits would cost about $35,000 and take a year to process.

“It doesn’t make sense to just try to penalize people with taxes for not having something built on their lot when they are making it difficult for everybody to build something,” said Acosta, who is growing potatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables on the plot instead.

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