Sacramento lawmaker proposes constitutional right to housing

Assemblyman Matt Haney (Getty, California State Assembly Democratic Caucus)
Assemblyman Matt Haney (Getty, California State Assembly Democratic Caucus)

Is having a roof over your head an inherent right?  In California, yes, if voters agree on a proposed constitutional amendment.

Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, has proposed an amendment that guarantees a “fundamental human right to adequate housing for everyone in California,” the Orange County Register reported.

The ballot measure holds state and local governments responsible for fulfilling a right to housing. If adopted by voters, California would be the first state to guarantee the right to housing in its constitution.

That right could include boosting housing production, tenant protections, repurposing vacant properties and housing subsidies.

“California is at the epicenter of the housing crisis,” Haney told the Register. “We have more Californians living on the street than anywhere else in the nation.”

The state has the highest rate of homelessness in the nation, and contains 30 percent of the nation’s homeless population. The state hasn’t kept pace with its housing demands, which has led to high rents.

It’s unclear exactly how the state would define “adequate housing” and the legislature may need to provide a definition, lobbyist Chris Micheli said.

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“Some might view ‘adequate’ as merely having a roof over their head,” Micheli said. “It could be just a gymnasium or a large building, almost like when we have emergencies. What does adequate mean? Is it a standalone single-family dwelling? Is it an apartment?”

The Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development voted 6-2 to refer the ballot measure to a Senate committee. Republican Assemblymembers Kate Sanchez, R-Rancho Santa Margarita, and Joe Patterson, R-Rocklin, voted against it.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate to be placed on the ballot.

Some lawmakers voiced concerns that the proposal puts the responsibility of determining the standard of what constitutes adequate or inadequate housing to the courts.

“I think the state and local governments haven’t done a good job on housing which I think has contributed to homelessness, but I’m concerned about the hundreds of judges we have in California having different ideas about what this means,” Patterson said.

— Dana Bartholomew

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