Last week, The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved moving forward with study of a “vacancy tax” it might add to the November 2020 ballot. The Los Angeles vacancy tax would likely be modeled after Oakland’s Measure W — which voters approved in 2018 by a 70%–30% margin, meeting Proposition 218’s two-thirds threshold for special taxes — and would levy an annual tax of at least $5,000 per vacant residential unit or parcel.

A report supporting the Los Angeles vacancy tax estimates that Los Angeles has a housing vacancy rate of 6 to 7 percent, suggesting the city likely has between 85,000 and 100,000 vacant residential units. Los Angeles, like Oakland, would direct proceeds of the vacancy tax to fund services to address the homelessness crisis and other affordable housing needs.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is unconvinced, characterizing the report the City Council relied upon as inadequate to identify the number of affected property owners and criticizing the exclusions the City Council has proposed. As cities struggle with housing demands and revenue shortfalls, those believed to have many vacant residential parcels and units might consider a vacancy tax as a tool to address both issues.