Posted on March 23, 2022

A Racist Relic Blocks Affordable Housing in California. It Must Go

Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2022

California legislators — Democrats and Republicans — are in rare agreement: It’s time for the state to repeal a racist, classist provision in the state Constitution that makes it harder to build affordable housing.

Article 34 was adopted in 1950 amid a discriminatory backlash against public housing. It requires that cities get voter approval before they build “low-rent housing” funded with public dollars.

And yet, lawmakers have been hesitant to put the Article 34 repeal on the ballot. An attempt was dropped in 2020 and revived this year for the 2022 ballot, but it may be postponed until 2024. The hurdle isn’t politics. It’s money. Advocates are struggling to raise the estimated $20 million necessary to run a successful statewide campaign to educate voters on California’s ugly history of housing discrimination.


It’s a remnant of an era that California should repudiate. A real estate industry group drafted the original initiative to require voter approval for public housing in 1950 — right after the federal Housing Act of 1949 banned explicit racial segregation in public housing. The initiative was framed as a way for residents to preserve “local control.” But although it was cynically wrapped in the guise of grass-roots democracy, giving voters the right to veto public housing was really just a sneaky way to let the mostly white voters bar low-income and minority residents from their communities.

Californians still love their local control and grass-roots democracy, which is one reason repealing Article 34 is no slam-dunk. Advocates for the repeal have found in polling that voters have a knee-jerk reaction against giving up their right to control what gets built in their community. But the polls have also found that once voters understand the roots of Article 34 and the way it has fueled segregation and inequality, they support the repeal.

Over the next few months, legislators are very likely to pass Senate Constitutional Amendment 2, which would allow the measure to be put on the ballot. {snip}