Editorial: Racist relic blocks affordable housing in California


California lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — agree it’s time the state repealed a racist, neo-classical provision in the state constitution that makes affordable housing harder to build.

Article 34 was adopted in 1950 amid a discriminatory response to public housing. It requires cities to get voter approval before building public dollar-funded “low-rent housing.”

And yet lawmakers have hesitated to put the repeal of Article 34 to a vote. A trial was dropped in 2020 and revived this year for the 2022 election, but it may be pushed back to 2024. The hurdle is not politics. it’s money Advocates are struggling to raise the estimated $20 million needed to launch a successful statewide campaign to educate voters about California’s ugly history of housing discrimination.

It is amazing that political donors have not acted to fund the repeal of Article 34. Advocacy groups routinely spend tens of millions of dollars on California election campaigns, and private companies issue multimillion-dollar checks at the behest of Governor Gavin Newsom and other elected officials.

Supporting the repeal is a way for civic-minded donors, businesses and organizations to right a historic wrong and remove an obstacle to building affordable housing for the most vulnerable residents at a time when the state is mired in homelessness. (Some big donors said they were ready; Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Health Foundationwho supported two Rent control initiativessaid his group would champion the repeal campaign.)

Although cities have developed many workarounds for Article 34 over the years, this remains an obstacle. Los Angeles, for example, went to voters last in 2008 Obtain approval to construct 3,500 units of affordable housing in each ward. Now the city has reached that limit in Council District 14, which includes downtown, and is on the verge of reaching that limit in the counties east and south of downtown.

That means the city will not be able to approve and fund additional affordable projects in those areas until voters enact a new Article 34 permit. The housing office is preparing a new election measure for November. It’s a waste of time, energy and money for the city, which is why Mayor Eric Garcetti began working with State Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) four years ago to repeal Article 34.

It’s a remnant of an era California should discard. A real estate industry group drafted the original initiative to require voter approval for public housing in 1950—just after the Federal Housing Act of 1949 outlawed explicit racial segregation in public housing. The initiative was designed as a way for residents to maintain ‘local control’. But though cynically cloaked in the guise of grassroots democracy, in reality voter veto power over public housing was just a sneaky way to allow predominantly white voters to exclude low-income and minority residents from their communities.

Californians still love their local control and grassroots democracy, which is one of the reasons repealing Article 34 isn’t a hit. proponents of repeal have found in polls that voters are instinctively opposed to giving up their right to control what is built in their community. But the polls also found that once voters understand the roots of Article 34 and the way it has fueled segregation and inequality, voters will support repeal.

Legislators are very likely to pass in the next few months Senate Amendment 2, which would allow the measure to be put to the vote. There hasn’t been a single “no” from any legislature yet, coming through hearings in committee and a vote in the Senate. Then proponents must decide whether to present the repeal to voters in November or in 2024. The decision will likely depend on whether they have the money to run an elaborate public education campaign.

This is the moment for California’s philanthropists and political donors to get involved. Article 34 is a blot on California’s constitution that hinders efforts to build more affordable housing. It’s high time voters had the opportunity to learn about this dark chapter in California’s history and had the opportunity to write a new one. Editorial: Racist relic blocks affordable housing in California

Caroline Bleakley

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