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Effort Restarted To Repeal Constitutional Provision Requiring Voter Approval For Public Housing

Two state senators have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the California Constitution that, if successful, would result in the repeal of an article that requires voter approval for new public housing projects. 

“Article 34 is a stain on California’s Constitution,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, who is co-sponsoring the repeal effort with state Sen. Ben Allen. “It was designed to keep people of color and low-income people out of whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. That is racism and classism, plain and simple, and it needs to be reversed.”

The California State Capitol

Backers of the repeal, who include Assembly members Laura Friedman, David Chiu and Alex Lee and state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, see the coronavirus as adding new urgency to the need to overturn the article. 

“Amidst a global pandemic that is exacerbating inequities, state policy should encourage cities and counties who are trying to build affordable housing for their residents,” Allen said.

Weiner and Allen cite data from the National Low-Income Housing Council that shows California has only 22% of needed housing units for extremely low-income households. 

Article 34 was approved in 1950 and requires that cities, counties, towns and the state get the support of a majority of voters before they develop, construct or acquire a “low rent housing project” with public funds. 

The approval of Article 34 coincided with rising McCarthyism, and, at the time, supporters of the article painted public housing as encroaching socialism. But supporters — many of them real estate agents — also leaned into racist integration fears. 

“Newspaper ads paid for by [the forerunner of today’s California Assn. of Realtors] also blamed ‘minority pressure groups’ for pushing public housing,” the Los Angeles Times reported last year.  

There have been three unsuccessful efforts to repeal Article 34, most recently in 1993. 

Allen and Weiner started this repeal process in 2018. The California Senate passed the repeal amendment in 2019, but, according to Ballotpedia, the state Assembly did not vote on the matter in time to get it onto the 2020 ballot. 

If the proposed constitutional amendment, SCA 2, passes the legislature, the Article 34 repeal will be placed on the ballot.