In 2015, a Civil Grand Jury indicted the office ranking it last in the state of California in practices and customer service. In the indictment, it listed all of the reasons why it was ranked last. The list was long and concerning. (Check it out here.) Amongst it were people receiving their tax bill years after they bought their home and the Office’s reliance on developer honesty as the basis for taxes on new construction. This needs to end.
A New Direction For The Assessor/Recorder
San Francisco’s elected position of City Assessor/Recorder is the most neglected position at City Hall. For far too long, it has been staffed by career bureaucrats who look at the office solely as a revenue generator while ignoring a huge part of the job - housing.
San Francisco is in a major housing crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in a generation. Public servants, like City Assessor, have a duty to step up during times of crisis to innovate and work hard for their constituents, but that hasn’t happened. That is why I am running for City Assessor.
Personally, I know what it is like to live in San Francisco with limited means. When I moved to San Francisco 15 years ago I had no job and no place to live. Amazingly, I quickly landed a job as an Oakland Unified School District teacher. My meager salary meant my only housing option was living with roommates in an older Victorian in the Lower Haight. I scraped by, but only because it was during a time when - even that arrangement - was affordable.
While living in the Lower Haight I met my wife. Today, along with our two children, we live here in San Francisco - the place we’ve decided is our lifelong home. Being a resident of this City was only possible because it welcomed me and afforded me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. This is what makes San Francisco the best city in the world - who you are, how much you make and where you come from doesn’t matter.
But over the last several years, it has lost its welcoming personality and feels as if it's only welcoming to a select few - those who can keep pace with our housing market. While at the same time, it is also pushing out the people we hold dear.
As a Bay Area teacher and a former union rep, I have spoken to many people who feel frustrated, angry, and confused as to why they feel their community is pushing them out. As a real estate appraiser and small business owner, I’ve seen the pain on renters faces who are having their lives turned upside down through no-fault evictions. These experiences have afforded me a unique perspective and the foundation from which to help the people of San Francisco.
The Old Way Of Thinking
San Francisco is a city of innovators. It's a city of people who take an old paradigm and redefine it. So, why are we still doing things the old way at the Assessor’s Office? For starters, the City Assessor’s Office has only worked for homeowners. That archaic way of doing business no longer works when half of our residents are renters. If elected, I will work for every San Franciscan.
How The Assessor/Recorder Can Help
The first way forward would be to view the taxation process with a mind to understand our housing. This starts by correcting the huge amount of errors in our housing data. Take, for instance, the current Assessor’s clearly inaccurate and useless data which shows that 64% of our single-family houses have no bedrooms. The Assessor’s office also can’t account for 1,200 acres of land.
Next, instead of financial planning outreach, my outreach would start with City Hall. Let’s create a program of low-interest loans to legalize the tens of thousands of illegal In-Law units that exist in San Francisco. Let’s offer property tax breaks and $0 permitting fees for people who legalize their unit and rent it at affordable rates. Numerous cities used property tax breaks to lure Amazon's new campus to their town, let's use tax breaks to bring possible affordable housing out of the shadows.
Homeowners also need more advocacy and resources. I would also work with the public to educate homeowners and prospective homeowners about the new ADU laws and help them understand the property tax increases that occur with their construction. Too many people are in the dark about their own property taxes and liabilities.
I would then reach out and work with organizations like Home Match to help support them in finding participants with extra bedrooms who might want to rent them out.
The bottom line is that something needs to shift and we must leverage every single possible resource at our disposal to attack our housing crisis. That also means electing new leadership to the Assessor’s office. Someone like me who has a background in housing and government, but who has also personally been inside the homes of thousands of San Francisco residents. I’m ready to shake things up and leverage what I know from my on-the-ground interactions with our citizens and our housing market
Paul Bellar For County Assessor
Access San Francisco is engaging San Francisco and Bay Area residents to try and make San Francisco accessible to everyone who wants to live here.