Dick Flacks: SB Needs "Social Housing" Policy Financed by New Tax Stream; Bearish on Trump Chances
Private sector solutions cannot meet the demand for workforce housing, says Dick Flacks, progressive warhorse and Santa Barbara's leading public intellectual of the Left, calling for a new “social housing” policy financed by a city hotel tax increase.
“Supply and demand is not what (private developers) are about,” UCSB Professor Emeritus Flacks said on this week’s edition of Newsmakers TV. “It’s what the market will bear.”
Flacks has been a central figure in virtually every social welfare campaign and crusade on the Central Coast since his arrival at the university in 1969; that’s when then-Governor Ronald Reagan famously compared his hiring to employing a “pyromaniac (for) a fireworks factory,” a tribute to the roles of Dick and his late wife, Mickey, in founding Students for a Democratic Society.
Mickey Flacks, who died in 2020, was Santa Barbara’s most prominent grassroots advocate for greatly increased construction of rental housing, specifically housing for workers in the “missing middle” income bracket, as well as for lower-wage service industry employees.
She was politically instrumental in the city’s 2013 adoption of the AUD (Average Unit-Sized Density) program, which eases density and parking regulations for developers who build rental units.
To date, the AUD program has enabled the building of 697 rental units, with another 742 in the pipeline,; however, they have proven 20 percent more expensive than median rents in the city.
Dick Flacks said that this data shows that, although the AUD effort has been a success in jumpstarting rental unit construction, the program is insufficient to what he views as the scope and scale of the problem.
Invoking a policy that his late wife dubbed “social housing,” Flacks proposed the city divert a new revenue stream, such as an increase in the current 12 percent hotel bed tax (aka Transient Occupancy Tax, or “TOT”) and earmark it for a special housing fund which SB's city council in 2022 created with several million dollars of budget surplus. The city’s Housing Authority then could “leverage” the endowed fund to partner with non-profit organizations to expand apartment construction, ensuring that rents remain affordable for middle class workers, he said.
In a conversation with Josh Molina and the genial host on Thursday, Flacks also bemoaned the failure of UCSB to meet its long-delayed commitment to build thousands of new units to meet the needs of expanded student enrollment and faculty housing, citing this as one of the underlying pressures on Santa Barbara’s tight housing market.
In large part, he blamed this on the “Munger Mystery,” the university’s secretive, years-long, and ultimately failed, dalliance with investor and philanthropist Charlie Munger, who offered to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars for a personally-designed student housing monstrosity dubbed “Dormzilla.”
Plus: Amazing but true, Dick also sees some rays of hope about the 2024 presidential election, despite current polls showing Donald Trump running even, or ahead, of Joe Biden. Spoiler alert: keep an eye on next Tuesday's elections for the Virginia state legislature.
P.S. The Santa Barbara County Action Network will honor Dick and Mickey Flacks for their decades of organizing and advocacy, at a special "Making History/Making Blintzes" (the title of Dick and Mickey's 2018 joint memoir) brunch fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 12. See flyer appended below for details.
You can watch our full conversation with Dick Flacks via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Channel 17, broadcasts the program at 8 p.m. on weekdays and at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. KCSB, 91.9 FM, airs the show at 5:30 on Mondays.
CARTOON OF THE WEEK
Cartoon: Ali Solomon for The New Yorker.