Affordable housing and transportation improvements are dire needs in the Bay Area. Will taxpayers fund both?

One campaign wants taxpayers to fund affordable housing, tenant protections, and homeless services throughout the Bay Area. The other seeks to raise regional sales taxes for colossal transportation projects like a second transbay BART tube and a Caltrain extension to downtown San Francisco.

Both needs are dire. And for a while, backers saw no problem with putting each issue on a regional ballot in November.

But recent polling showed that many voters recoil when the two measures are placed side by side. So, some policymakers now want to combine them. They’re pushing for a single ballot measure that, if approved by two-thirds of voters, would raise sales taxes across the nine counties by 1%, generating $100 billion over 40 years to split between housing and transportation.

This sudden twist comes with a tight deadline. The “Faster Bay Area” transportation tax campaign needs to rally support from two-thirds of the Legislature by June to get its measure on the November ballot. “Bay Area Housing for All,” which doesn’t need legislative approval, seeks $10 billion in bonds to build homes and help people who are hovering at the edge of displacement.

Proponents of a merger argue that the two issues are intertwined. As rents and real estate prices soar in cities, more people flee to suburbs and rural areas, where housing is cheaper. Yet they still need to commute to urban job centers each day, and the region’s mass transit network isn’t big enough to meet rising demand.

“There’s a lot of appetite in the region for a big transportation fix, and there’s a lot of appetite for a big housing fix,” said Nick Josefowitz, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “I think there will be more appetite for both together.”

At this point, the marriage proposal faces formidable challenges. First, its supporters must persuade two discrete coalitions to join hands — and not everyone is fond of the idea.

“I think this is a very risky proposition,” said Bob Allen, a member of the grassroots organization Voices for Public Transportation, one of many groups lobbying for “Faster Bay Area.”

“I think you can make a case that housing and transportation are inextricably linked, and I would love to do that,” Allen added. “But you don’t do it off the cuff in February with no plan.”

Others argue that the two issues should be treated separately, period. Dave Hudson, a San Ramon city councilman and member of the Association of Bay Area Governments, said the region’s top priority should be the transportation tax.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the ballot measure’s deadline for legislative approval.

He cited competition from Los Angeles, which passed a similar sales tax in 2016 to fund Mayor Eric Garcetti’s goal of 28 transportation infrastructure projects by 2028 — the year the city hosts the summer Olympics. With the tax money in hand, Los Angeles is now in a strong position to obtain federal grants. The Bay Area would be vying for the same pot of money.

“We’re competing against the 10 million-pound gorilla, and they’re going to go after every dime they can get,” Hudson said. He argued that adding housing would “water down” the measure, which may already be tough to sell to voters.

Yet some Bay Area leaders say they wouldn’t endorse a transportation sales tax unless it included funds for housing. Among them is Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who is leading the push for a hybrid ballot measure. Berkeley, long known as a college town and hippie haven, is now dotted with encampments and dilapidated RV dwellings, a galling illustration of homelessness in the suburbs.

To Arreguín, addressing that obvious despair is just as important as building a second BART tube.

“These are two of the region’s significant challenges, and we need to tap at both issues,” he told The Chronicle.

Supporters of the two measures aren’t just debating the policy issues — the sales tax alone is controversial. City council members in Oakland, Cupertino and Mountain View have decried the idea, saying it would It would disproportionately burden working-class people who pay a greater share of their income for sales taxes.

It’s even sparked internal debates within the Faster Bay Area campaign, which pairs transit activists with Silicon Valley business groups seeking a more efficient way to get employees to work. The activists want the companies to pay for a better transportation system, instead of shunting it onto taxpayers.

On top of that, backers of the combined ballot measure face an aggressive timeline. Their idea would require state legislation to grant taxing authority to a regional agency. That legislation has to pass both houses with a two-thirds vote by June. It would then need approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission before the campaign can draft ballot language in August. And then there’s the challenge of wooing voters, who would have to pass the measure by a two-thirds majority.

Josefowitz is optimistic. Tackling two crises at once is difficult, he acknowledged. “But big things are always hard.”

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @rachelswan

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