Should the state guarantee a right to housing for all Californians?
A coalition of anti-poverty advocates led by Matt Haney, a Democratic state assemblymember from San Francisco, is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that seeks to do just that.
The amendment does not define a right to housing, and backers have offered few specifics about what it would mean in practice. But they say it could make it easier for state officials to sue local governments that resist adding significantly more affordable homes. To pass, it needs a two-thirds majority in the state Legislature and then approval by voters.
At a news conference in Sacramento this week, Haney, alongside leaders from advocacy groups including the ACLU of California and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, touted the amendment as a long-awaited solution to the state’s affordable housing shortage.
“This is a crisis, and the status quo approach that doesn’t recognize (housing) as a fundamental human right is not going to get us there,” said Haney, a newly elected lawmaker who campaigned on bolstering affordable housing.
Past efforts to codify a right to housing in the state constitution have failed in recent years. And it remains unclear if the latest amendment can muster enough support this time around. But if successful, advocates say it would be the first of its kind anywhere in the country.
For decades, the state and Bay Area haven’t come close to building enough affordably priced homes for everyone who needs them. That’s in part due to a lack of funding for low-income housing. But many cities — from metropolitan San Francisco to suburban Pleasanton — have also long resisted planning for growth.
Experts agree that underproduction is at the root of California’s astronomical housing costs, which are putting an increasing strain on many residents and exacerbating the state’s homelessness crisis.
More than half of all California renters spend over 30% of their earnings on housing, classifying them as “rent-burdened” by federal standards. And many pay much more than that. The state’s homeless population, meanwhile, has grown to over 170,000 people amid the economic fallout of the pandemic, spiking by at least 20% in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Mateo counties.