Kaplan wants tax on vacant Oakland properties to help homeless

In Oakland, city, county and community came together Monday night at City Hall to propose and discuss short and long term solutions to the growing homeless problem.

At a large encampment along 27th Street under Highway 980 in North Oakland, Barbara Lewis  lives in a tent. 

She says she became homeless because of money problems. Lewis says she works as a janitor and a house cleaner, but says it's not enough to pay for housing.

"It gets cold here. We up here getting pneumonia and flu. People be coughing," says Lewis. 

She is among the more than 2,700 homeless in Oakland in 2017, according to a count provided by the city and the nonprofit Everyone Counts. 

That's an increase of almost 600  from 2015. 

"Oakland has been struggling with a large and growing homelessness crisis," says Rebecca Kaplan, who is the citywide council member.

She hosted the community meeting.

Kaplan is proposing a $4,000 parcel tax on each vacant property, both commercial and residential, to specifically pay for homeless solutions.

She says the city has identified 5,000 vacant properties.

"We estimate that we can bring in $20 million a year in order to really strengthen the homeless response. That means tenant support. That means rapid rehousing," says Kaplan.    

Possible rapid housing solutions include providing  more tiny houses and shipping container homes.

"Even though we have money to build housing, we need to know what we can do immediately," says Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley who was on the panel of speakers.  

One faith leader proposes opening up church parking lots to help house the homeless...putting in tiny homes and allowing  the homeless to park their vehicles in a safe space.  

"Church properties are one of the most valuable, unused resources during the week that can be utilized for homelessness throughout the night time," says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of Westside Missionary Baptist Church. 

At the encampment on 27th street, the homeless say they welcome housing solutions that will put a solid roof over their heads.

"I never did this in my life. Living like this is, I wouldn't advise it for anybody. It's hard," says Michael London, who says he's been homeless for three years.    

Kaplan's parcel tax proposal would need city council approval. Then, voters would have final say on the November 2018 ballot.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on it April 17th.