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Who Should Pay for a City’s Homelessness Crisis?

California cities are angling to charge big business for housing, after a notable failure in Seattle. They might have a better shot.
A tent city for homeless residents of San Francisco, where a ballot initiative could raise up to $300 million for housing.
A tent city for homeless residents of San Francisco, where a ballot initiative could raise up to $300 million for housing. Eric Risberg/File/AP

Big businesses want lower taxes. Cities—and many of the people who live in them—want lower rates of homelessness. Lately, the compatibility of these two desires is being tested, as local governments across the U.S. float a new strategy to help the growing number of unsheltered people on their streets: Asking businesses to pay a greater share in funding aid.

Last week, a coalition of homelessness advocates, non-profits, and tenant groups in San Francisco secured an initiative for November’s ballot that, if passed, would almost double the city’s spending on homeless shelters using an increased gross receipts tax.