SoCal lawmaker hits pause on repeal of voter OK for public housing

Sen. Ben Allen sees November ballot too crowded to mount campaign on nixing Article 34

State lawmakers to yank measure to repeal anti-public-housing rule known as Article 34
State Senator Ben Allen (SD24, Getty)

A Santa Monica lawmaker wants to pull a measure that would repeal a 74-year-old constitutional rule that hampers public housing.

State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, author of the repeal measure for Article 34 in the state’s constitution, plans to withdraw it from the November ballot, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He said the election was too crowded with expensive tax, housing, bond and public safety campaigns to give the measure a chance to succeed.

“We always knew that under the right circumstances and with a quieter election, we could do a lot of voter education and make the case for repeal,” Allen told the Times. “But it just doesn’t feel like the right time.”

Allen has requested his colleagues formally remove the repeal from the ballot prior to a June 27 deadline.

The withdrawal ends an immediate effort by Allen and advocates of low-income housing to erase “a stain” on the state Constitution. Article 34 requires the approval of local voters before public housing can be built. 

Article 34 was approved by a voter initiative in 1950 during a time of racial discrimination in the housing market supported by the California Real Estate Association, now the California Association of Realtors. The Realtor group has apologized for its role.

Decades after its passage, Article 34 stymied the construction of low-income housing in California, while continuing to add to its cost and uncertainty. 

No other state has a similar provision in its constitution.

The most direct effects of Article 34 have ebbed, according to the Times. Low-income housing developments now are mostly funded through federal and state tax-credit programs, which don’t automatically trigger public votes.

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Courts have also ruled that cities can meet the requirements under Article 34 by having elections to allow an overall number of public housing units to be built in future years, rather than holding a vote for every project.

But it remains costly and time consuming for affordable housing developers to structure deals to avoid a vote under Article 34 — and local governments still have to put proposals on the ballot. 

In 2022, L.A. voters approved Measure LH, a move required by Article 34 to authorize up to 75,000 units of low-income housing citywide. 

State lawmakers have asked voters three times to repeal or weaken Article 34. All three, the last of which occurred in 1993, failed by large margins.

Analysts have said that attempts to remove Article 34 face an uphill battle, having to convince voters to abandon the local decision-making required by the provision and overcome general sentiments against public housing.

In 2022, state lawmakers agreed to put a repeal measure on the 2024 ballot, which Allen said would allow sufficient time to build a coalition to fund the campaign.

Allen said that the repeal had broad support, including from Republicans, but competing issues took precedence.

“Everybody wants to get it repealed, but it’s tough to make it so that it’s anyone’s No. 1 priority,” he told the newspaper.

— Dana Bartholomew

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