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City Backs Repeal of Racist Housing Law

Council’s Legislative Policy Committee to review move to amend California Constitution

Published on Tuesday, February 23, 2021 | 1:18 pm
 

The city is supporting an effort to repeal an article in the state constitution dating back to the days of segregation that prohibits cities and counties from building or buying certain low-income housing projects without voter approval.

According to Article 34 of the state constitution, “No low-rent housing project shall hereafter be developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by any state public body until, a majority of the qualified electors of the city, town or county, as the case may be, in which it is proposed to develop, construct, or acquire the same, voting upon such issue, approve such project by voting in favor thereof at an election to be held for that purpose, or at any general or special election,” the article reads.

The City Council’s Legislative Policy Committee was scheduled to receive information on Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA) 2, which would repeal Article 34, on Tuesday.

The committee will also receive a review on other housing bills. The city is supporting several bills that aim to expand eviction moratoriums.

Article 34 was written in 1950 as African-American populations began increasing in predominantly white communities.

“Article 34 is a scar on the California Constitution. It’s designed to keep people of color and poor people out of certain neighborhoods. And it needs to be repealed,” said Democratic state Sen. Wiener of San Francisco, chair of the Senate Housing Committee, in a prepared statement.

“Publicly owned affordable housing for low-income people is critical to reducing homelessness and ensuring that housing is available to people of all income levels. This important source of housing shouldn’t be singled out for voter approval when other types of housing aren’t.” Wiener said.

Article 34 has been softened by other laws that require approval for broad plans to build publicly funded housing. Those laws prevent cities from being forced to hold special elections for every project.

Typically, Article 34 could be avoided by limiting public assistance to 49% of the units in a given project.

According to “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice,” published by the city’s Housing Department in 2013, the city has typically complied with Article 34 on a project-by-project basis by utilizing one or more of the article’s exemptions.

“We have 900 affordable units in the pipeline,” said Pasadena Housing Director Bill Huang. “The reason why they can move forward is they use multiple sources of finances. If less than 50% of the units are funded by the city then the project is exempt.”

Huang said Article 34 has never prevented a project from being built during his time in Pasadena.

However, developers are still forced to spend money on legal costs and planning to avoid Article 34 as they wend their way through the planning process.

Developments using only low-income housing tax credits, whether state or federal, are not governed by Article 34.

“It’s something from an anti-low-income, racist perspective,” Huang said. “It doesn’t even do what it was intended to do. It’s toothless, and it’s long past time to get rid of it.”

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