The struggle for affordable housing

Big thanks to our intern from the McGeorge School of Law, Jacob Benitez, for this write-up! Read a little more about Jacob at this page.


In June of 2022, the County of Sacramento proposed putting Article 34 -an Affordable Housing Measure - on the November 8, 2022 Ballot (BOS 6/7 meeting - item 40). Luckily, the affordable housing measure has been added to the November 8 ballot with a unanimous vote.


The Sac City Council followed (on 6/14 - item 3) by moving for the City of Sacramento to be added to the Article 34 Ballot Measure proposed by the County for the November 8, 2022 election.


Basically this means that on the November 2022 ballot, voters will have the option to "authorize... the development of affordable housing equivalent to one percent of the existing housing units in the county" (text taken from item agenda doc).


Long story short: voters will have the chance to approve or deny affordable housing development on the November 8, 2022 ballot.


The Mayor described the decision to add the City to the ballot measure as a “common sense question”. Another hot take from Darrell Steinberg.


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Have voters denied the development of affordable housing projects in the past?


Sadly yes. Most memorably, in 1969 the voters turned down over half of the public housing proposed under Article 34. This meant that over 15,000 housing projects did not get approved.


Are voters turning down projects now?


Not as often, at least not within recent years. However, certain loopholes exist around public funding. A vote is not required for projects that have a portion of the units going towards low income residents if the project is funded by federal or state tax credits. Still, this is usually a more expensive method of building affordable housing.


Alright, but what the heck is up with Article 34??



What IS Article 34?


Article 34 has been a barrier to developing affordable housing for decades. It was added to the CA constitution in 1950, and it requires voter approval for publicly assisted housing projects.


This means that it would be illegal to use public funds for affordable housing if local voters vote against the development. Still, private developers can be used to build affordable housing structures; however this route is more costly and expensive.

Article 34 has prevented affordable housing projects from being built in areas where wealthy white home owners see affordable housing projects as a threat to their housing value. Essentially, it has been used to stop the integration of low income families into wealthier neighborhoods.

Why hasn't Article 34 been repealed before?


There have been 5 attempts to repeal it, but they have failed each time.


The basis for repeal has been an Equal Protection challenge.


Now, what is this legal term that has just been thrown at me? It’s simple. Under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, the Equal Protection clause ensures that any government action cannot treat anyone differently than anyone else.


The courts have mainly argued that holding a referendum for affordable housing does not discriminate or treat anyone differently because other types of projects also have to go through the same process.


To repeal Article 34 an amendment to the CA constitution must be made. These amendments are hard to make, and campaigning for the change would cost millions.


Why now?


The number of units approved in the previous Article 34 measure are expiring in 2024; in order to continue to build affordable housing using public funds a new article 34 measure is required.


If not approved, then all the public agencies within Sacramento using public funding for affordable housing would be out of compliance with Article 34. This means that the number of affordable housing projects would drastically decrease. Article 34 makes it so that at least 49% of projects go to low income residents. Without the ballot measure there would be no public funding for these projects.


Ultimately, passing the ballot measure should be a no brainer. However, it is evident that more change must be made. The way Article 34 is set up, the people must choose between having something or nothing. Either the ballot measure is approved under Article 34 or no affordable housing is made available. Until article 34 is ratified and changed, this is the best option for affordable housing.

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