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Santa Monica Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Eliminate Hurdle to Low-Income Housing
By Jorge Casuso
December 5, 2018 -- Santa Monica Senator Ben Allen introduced legislation this week to eliminate an impediment to building affordable housing added to the California Constitution in 1950.
The bill would repeal Article 34, which requires cities to submit projects to a voter referendum when public funds are allocated to develop low-income rental housing.
The repeal of the provision -- which some view as racist -- would result in tossing out a rulebook's worth of requirements that makes it onerous to build low-income housing.
“Voters have made their priorities clear," Allen said in a statement Monday. "California must address its housing, affordability, and homelessness crises.
"And yet we have a decades old law that creates an unnecessary roadblock for cities who are trying to do right by their constituents."
The proposed legislation would have no impact on Santa Monica, where voters in 1998 approved a measure that eliminates the need to abide by the 69-year-old article.
Proposition I gives the City authority to finance development, construction and acquisition of affordable housing up to a certain amount without having to place individual projects before voters.
Article 34 -- which was added to the State Constitution during an era when racial segregation was enforced -- has withstood two legal challenges that have reached the California Supreme Court -- in 1976 and again in 1978.
The later ruling found "substantial evidence" that the proponents of the article "were moved by two primary concerns, the direct drain on a community's finances and the effect on its aesthetic environment, represented by the tax exempt publicly owned low income housing of that day."
But Senator Scott Wiener, who co-authored the bill, says Article 34 "is a racist provision" that "is designed to keep people of color and poor people out of certain neighborhoods -- and it needs to be repealed,”
Publicly owned low-income housing, Eiener said, "shouldn’t be singled out for voter approval when other types of housing aren’t.”
Such housing, he said, "is critical to reducing homelessness and ensuring that housing is available to people of all income levels."
Allen's effort to repeal the provision comes in the midst of an affordable housing crisis across the state.
According to the California Department of Housing, the majority of California renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with nearly one third paying more than half of their incomes.
The Department also found that approximately one in five Californians live in poverty, with another 20 percent living near the poverty line due to the shortage of affordable housing.
An opinion letter issued by the Housing Department in 2004 spelled out the burdensome process required to win an exemption from Article 34.
"Any conclusion that a project is exempt from Article 34 must be supported by specific facts and a specific legal theory for exemption that itself is supported by the Constitution, statute, and/or case law," staff wrote.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who co-sponsored the bill with the City of LA, said Article 34 "inflicts unnecessary and costly burdens on cities, delaying the construction of housing in the communities (where) we need it most."
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