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Housing, minimum wage, police reform: Ballot measures that voters are deciding in elections across U.S.

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·Senior Producer and Writer
·4 min read
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A walking stick hangs on a privacy booth as a person votes during the New York City Mayoral election at PS 81 in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S. November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Votes are being cast across the county today, including in New York City, above, where voters will select a new mayor. (REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

It’s Election Day in states and cities across the country with nearly all the attention focused on places like Virginia, New Jersey, and New York City. They feature contests that are widely expected to have national implications.

Voters are also considering ballot initiatives that could have an impact on the housing market elsewhere and also provide a test run for more far-reaching measures in 2022 and beyond.

Here are a few of the measures voters are considering today.

Affordable housing and ‘outside speculators’

Many of the affordable housing measures up for vote directly target home-sharing companies like Airbnb (ABNB) and VRBO - owned by Expedia (EXPE) - and attribute the decline in affordable home options to the boom in short-term rentals in recent years – especially in tourist destinations.

XLincoln County in Oregon has an initiative to prohibit new short-term rental licenses and phase out existing licenses in certain parts of the county. A local advocacy group argues the rule would “restore Lincoln County’s long-term housing stock by discouraging outside speculators from buying up houses,” citing an Arizona study on what is described as the negative consequences of short-term rentals.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse on the central Oregon coast near Newport lit by afternoon sunlight. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Lincoln County in Oregon features tourist destinations like the Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport. (Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Other studies have looked into the “Airbnb effect,” and some have found a link between an increase in Airbnb listings and rising rents and house prices in the area. Another study described a more "nuanced characterization of the winners and losers of the sharing economy," including the finding that the benefits for low income-areas in hosting opportunities may outweigh housing cost increases.

Colorado also has a housing measure on the ballot. The New York Times visited the town of Leadville in advance of the Nov. 2 election there and found business owners supportive of new taxes – with the money going to create more affordable housing – because their potential workers can’t find places to live in the ski destination town.

Another place the issue is on the ballot is St. Paul, Minn., where voters are considering a rent-control ballot initiative.

An Airbnb spokesperson told Yahoo Finance in a statement that “countless families depend on Airbnb to pay their rent and stay in their homes, which has become an even more crucial lifeline amidst the unprecedented economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"As a number of experts have concluded, home sharing has little impact on housing affordability and is not a factor in housing supply,” the spokesperson added.

A 2016 survey conducted by Zillow found that just 5.1% of experts said short term rentals "would have a meaningful, large impact on the supply and affordability of more traditional, longer-term rentals."

Opponents of Airbnb rally before a hearing called
Opponents of Airbnb rally in New York. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

‘Economic justice’ measures

There are also a series of measures focused on "economic justice" by a progressive group called the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Maine has a referendum election today and is considering one measure to enshrine “that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing.” The measure would be the first in the nation and part of a movement undertaken by progressive groups to secure a "right to food" across the country.

Colorado residents are voting on a measure to increase the marijuana sales tax, while and Tucson, Ariz., is looking to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

Other cities and states have tackled the minimum wage issue in recent elections, including Florida, which last year passed a measure that raises the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour, aiming for $15 by 2026.

Police reform

Another measure sure to draw a lot of attention is in Minneapolis where voters are deciding whether to replace the city’s police force with a department of public safety.

It is the first election there since last summer’s protests and the Wall Street Journal visited ahead of the election and found voters torn over how much to reform the city's police force one year after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Department officer on May 25, 2020.

This story has been updated.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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